‘The biggest dreams I cherish are for them.’

Iraqi Hassan (right) and Syrian Muhammed (left) share their greatest passion: children. They cheer up whenever they mention their family. Reassuringly, Muhammed has a residence permit in Germany. However, Hassan’s future in Europe is still uncertain. He is terrified to return to Iraq. In the queue of a Syrian restaurant, Hassan shows us photographs of the destruction that bombings have caused in his country.

Dreams for the children

Since Cornelius and I were introduced to the Syrian Kitchen we cannot get enough of it. Whenever we are in the mood to go out, we head out to a Middle Eastern restaurant. In Berlin, we opted for a Syrian establishment that served a delicious dish of roasted chicken. We barely managed to get a table and when they took our order, other hungry customers were queuing up outside.

Continue reading “‘The biggest dreams I cherish are for them.’”

Purged Turkish NATO Officer discusses Asylum Limbo

After the failed coup in Turkey, more than 200 NATO officers, including almost all Turkish diplomats stationed in Brussels’ headquarters, were ordered to return to their country. Firat’s* Turkish bank accounts were immediately frozen, his diplomatic passport was revoked and his university diploma was cancelled. He is saddened that NATO has barely responded to this. Firat applied for asylum in Belgium, and is expecting a decision from the Belgian authorities

The ex-officer testifies from his heart about the rule of law, how he experienced the coup far away in Belgium, and his new status as a pariah. For security reasons he wishes to remain anonymous.

NATO officers purged in Turkey

The failed coup of 15 July 2016 was a turning point in the lives of various Turks. Besides the shockwave this news created, the Turkish government took drastic measures to to crush dissent. The media was tarnished and more than 100.000 people in the public sector, including teachers and judges, were fired because they allegedly pledged their allegiance to Fethullah Gülen (the alleged brain behind the coup).

Continue reading “Purged Turkish NATO Officer discusses Asylum Limbo”

When a student at a UK university becomes a refugee

Arabic language teacher Aziz* from Syria first arrived in London in 2010 to pursue his master’s degree in the UK. In March 2011, while he lived in London, protests started in his home country. ‘It took me a while before I realised I couldn’t go back home anymore – probably some 6 months into the revolution.’ So he filed for asylum upon finishing his studies. This is his story.

A war back home

Aziz remembers the start of the Syrian war very clearly. “A friend of mine said that there were protests going on in Damascus. We couldn’t really believe at first that such a thing was possible. I followed the news daily, read reports and kept in touch with people in different parts of the country.”

Continue reading “When a student at a UK university becomes a refugee”

Refugees bothered me, now I’m one myself

Melek* moved to Belgium two years ago, when her husband, a Turkish diplomat, was assigned to Brussels. She took unpaid leave from her job in a prestigious Turkish institution. Their lives were perfect until the 15th of July 2016, when an attempted coup in Turkey turned their lives upside down. Her husband was discharged and she was dismissed from her job because she was married to him. Unable to return to their country for fear of persecution, they applied for asylum in Belgium. Lacking money and fearing retaliation, Melek struggles with her new life.

Despite her full schedule finding a job, learning French and Dutch and undertaking unpaid research as a PhD candidate, she decided to write a piece for RefuTales. One year after the failed coup, she’s ready to speak up.

Continue reading “Refugees bothered me, now I’m one myself”

After Decade in Greece Not Welcome Anymore

A.* is an independent woman. First, she worked in the family business in Syria. After that, she went to Greece and established a life for herself there. But with a change of rules came a change of place. A. now lives in London, has recently received her refugee status and is eagerly looking for a job.

Successful in Greece

According to A., people from Syria didn’t use to travel much abroad before the war. “In Syria, we have everything – mountains, deserts, rivers, sea, history. When I was younger, I visited all cities in Syria. They each have their own beauty, even though many of them are destroyed now.” Having great beauty at home didn’t prevent A. from moving abroad, though. “I wanted to experience the Western way of life. I was really keen on doing so and applied for a visa ten years in a row.”

Continue reading “After Decade in Greece Not Welcome Anymore”

How a Syrian Director opened a Restaurant in Antwerp

One rarely meets people who can incite others with their strength and zeal for life. Sally Ghannoum is such a person. One year and a half after her arrival in Belgium, she managed to establish a Syrian restaurant with the help of dozens of new friends.

We met at Dilbi Falafel in Antwerp while savouring the tasty cuisine. It soon became clear that Sally had more to offer than just oriental dishes. One could refer to her as the embodiment of successful integration.

In the heart of the Arabic neighbourhood

Dilbi Falafel is not exactly a business you’ll stumble upon, but there has been a steady growth of customers through word of mouth. It’s located at Diepstraat 60, about a ten minute walk from the train station of Antwerp. Suppressing my first impulse of entering the shopping street (known as ‘De Meir’), I made my way towards the Arabic neighbourhood. Sally dreams about a big restaurant at ‘de Groenplaats’, but for the moment she settles for her cosy restaurant. And she’s right. The location might even add to its charm.

Continue reading “How a Syrian Director opened a Restaurant in Antwerp”

“I just Want a Travel Visa to Turkey”

Hussein has travelled alone from Aleppo, Syria, to Germany. He has already achieved a level of B1 in German and is currently refining his language skills. His life in Europe is pretty good. The only thing that is difficult for him, is the separation from his family (Hussein’s brother and parents live in Turkey). He’s in touch with them, but can’t get a visa for a visit.

“To be be separated from each other isn’t easy, but there’s nothing we can do. I made the choice to come here (Germany, ed.). And I have never regretted it. It’s good here. I must bear the consequences of my choices.

Continue reading ““I just Want a Travel Visa to Turkey””

Some Europeans Think Refugees Come from the Jungle

Mustafa Aljaradi (31) comes from Raqqa, Syria. He is a political refugee. In his native country he strongly criticized Assad’s regime and ISIS. However, out of fear of retaliation, he fled to Turkey three years ago and finally reached the Netherlands through Germany. He feels it’s his duty to raise the world’s awareness. On Facebook and Twitter (@Mjaradie) he shows us, through writings and images, the terrible consequences of the Syrian civil war.

Before his arrival in the Netherlands Mustafa had to register his fingerprints in Germany, which slowed down the procedure. In the Netherlands he noticed the prejudices and the disunity about the refugee issues, so he is an advocate for the availability of more background information about refugees so that the general public can revise their opinion. Concerning integration he believes that the best way to fit in one’s society is to master its language.  For this purpose, he has a few practical tips at hand.

Continue reading “Some Europeans Think Refugees Come from the Jungle”

Belgian Refugee Camp Fed Us With Butter as Meals Were Insufficient

Architect Sara* and software engineer Saïd* married before fleeing Syria for Europe. They have been granted asylum and are living in a small but cozy Belgian apartment. He is enrolled in a Masters in Computer Science, she in an intensive Dutch course. They were so kind to invite us into their home, where they enlightened us about the living conditions in Belgian refugee camps.

Belgian reception Camp

Food

Sara shrugs her shoulders. “We were often hungry. If we ever had some money left, we bought chocolate. I would have rather eaten pasta, but we didn’t have cooking facilities in the camp.”

“The camp management knew that the canteen meals weren’t enough to fill our stomachs, so they gave us an ice cream sized scoop of butter with every meal, three times a day”

Her husband jumps in: “The food they served us was barely eatable, and it was hardly enough for a woman, let alone a man. The camp management knew that the canteen meals weren’t enough to fill our stomachs, so they gave us an ice cream sized scoop of butter with every meal, three times a day. It was disgusting. Sara got sick and needed to consult a doctor. He prescribed to change her diet, but the organization wouldn’t let her.”

Continue reading "Belgian Refugee Camp Fed Us With Butter as Meals Were Insufficient"

Insights of a young Syrian woman in Europe—Part III: Crime and integration

In Parts I and II of our interview series with Sajida, we talked about the asylum procedure and culture shocks. Now the story continues. The third and final part deals with sexual assaults, learning German, and her fight to carry on with her university studies in Europe.

Part III: Crime and integration

Last time we talked about disrespect. What went through your mind when you heard about the assaults during New Year’s Eve in Cologne?

“I was shocked, of course!

It took a while before the news reached our camp. Because none of my neighbors followed the news, I learned about it by hearsay. It was tough. I repeatedly asked myself, why? Why would anyone do that? I didn’t get it. I still don’t. I know that humans are capable of atrocities. Just look at what’s happening in Syria… but mass sexual assault? No, I couldn’t grasp it. My heart was bleeding.

Continue reading "Insights of a young Syrian woman in Europe—Part III: Crime and integration"