I have now waited 4 years for the smuggler’s brother

Fouad is 38 years old, Aleppo, Syria.

I had a beautiful life before the war. I was a successful tailor and I had one business in Aleppo and another one in Lebanon where I had several men and women employed, respectively. Life was good and I enjoyed it very much in all its aspects.When the war broke out in Syria I left for Beirut, where I lived in a suburban area called Zahlé. I had spent so much time in Lebanon during the years that my accent was Lebanese and everybody thought I was from the area myself. At the end of 2012 I got a message that one in my family had died and as a result of a misunderstanding I thought it was my mother, and so I went back to Syria, where I was caught up in the village Manbij for 11 months, because the road to Aleppo was closed as the area was under the control of different groups such as Kurds, Daesh and others.

After 11 months I decided to pay thousands of dollars to get through the check-points that were placed along the road to Lebanon, because I wanted to go back to Beirut to check up on my business. When I arrived to my store I was held up by men from Hezbollah and they brought me to my own apartment, which they now had taken possession of, and I was interrogated by the commander, who just a few years back was a junkie. I was asked why I had spent time in Syria and the only thing that saved my life was the fact that some of the parents of the girls who were working for me assured the Hezbollah that I was a good person and had not done anything. The commander, however, advised me to leave for Syria and so I went back to Manbij.

I had lost everything I owned in Lebanon, and I knew that I was just lucky to have survived. And now as Aleppo was being bombed my family had moved to Manbij also, where I together with my sister opened a local school for children: There were so many refugee families who were living in tents and as they experienced winter for the first time, I would fill up my car with blankets, clothing and food; I helped because there was a need and when I did not have more money, I received donations and brought them to families. At this point most of my old friends had died in Aleppo from the intense bombings.

Daesh was controlling the village nearby, and at the beginning they formed a group of 25 persons in Manbij, where the frontlines were shifting all the time, as one group after the other would take control of the streets. I actually could follow the battles going back and forth, because I had bought a walkie talkie as a lot of other villagers had. At one point Daesh gained control of the streets, but when they revealed the ugly face of their ideology forcing women to cover themselves and the men to let their beard grow, quit smoking and restrain themselves to an extreme degree, the villagers rebelled and fought back and Daesh lost. However, they came to my door and tried to recruit me.

Together with my father and the rest of my family I decided that I should leave for Turkey, and so it was arranged that I went with a smugglers car. But my family later called me and told me also to leave Turkey, so it was arranged with smugglers´ that I would be taken in boat to Greece with a group of other refugees. We were 20 people in total and the smugglers transported us in a van that was dark and claustrophobic and I just prayed that everything would be ok.
However, the engine of the boat that was going to take us to Greece had broken down and the smugglers rather abruptly left us in the forest for 2 weeks with almost no food and very little water. Among us there was a group of Afghans and one of them began to threaten a Christian woman because of her religion, and so I and some of the others had to ask them to leave, which they did. I do not know what happened to them or if they ever got out of the forest.

I survived with the rest by drinking water from the river, and eating bark and leafs from the trees. During the first week w gave our food to the children, but after that it was the goat herders who would give us something to eat occasionally. After 2 weeks we decided to try to find a way out of the forest, and so we marked the trees, so we could find back if we got really desperate, but instead we met the smugglers who were ready and finally had fixed the engine for the boat.

It was 2 o´clock in the morning and the guy who was in charge of taking us to Greece on the boat was wearing a diving suit, but the life jackets we each had paid 100 dollars for were not working. I knew that after around 2 and a half hours on the sea we would reach Greek waters and then the border patrol could not send us back to Turkey. I would look at my watch, because my phone was placed in a plastic bag with the others´ phones. After half an hour the guy in the diving suit disappeared in the sea, and while the women and children were screaming I had to take over the steering and as I could see light in the horizon, I made the lights our destination.

The lights that I could see were actually from the airport of Athens, and when the sun began to rise we began to see a lot of small fishing boats. And at 7 o´clock we reached land: It was a lovely beach and there were some ordinary people there who saw us arrive in the rubber dinghy and was chocked. We destroyed the rubber dinghy, because we had heard that they sometimes would send refugees back to Turkey if their boat was intact.

On the Greek beach we were soon met by the police, who had been informed about our arrival from the Turkish coast guard that had seen us on sea. They arrested us and did body searches and then they took us to a prison, where we stayed for several days. Amnesty International would bring us food until we were sent to an asylum centre, where we stayed 1 month and could buy our own food. After that we were sent to a prison again, where it was decided whether or not we were given papers and a temporary residence permit: Most of the refugees in the prison were from Syria and almost none of them were sent back. I luckily got 6 months of residence permit.

Dublin Core: Language: en Subject: a million stories, denmark, syria, aleppo, refugee,