My name is Omar Al-Matroud, I was born on 11.08.1995 in Syria, Damascus. Up to my twentieth life I lived in a place called Yarmuk. The war forced me to leave my homeland. I had everything a person needs to live. My family belongs to the middle class, like most people from Syria. We are five brothers and sisters, all academics except me. I could not finish my studies because of the war. When I was 17, I worked voluntarily for the first time, then I looked for groups in which I could work voluntarily. I wanted to help other people.
On 24.10.2015 I left Syria. I fled to Turkey with my brother and mother. We had relatives there. I worked there and attended the language course. I also learned Turkish. During the day I worked and in the evening I went to the language course. I wanted to continue my studies, but it was not easy in Turkey. My brother suggested to flee to Europe as other people had done. I didn’t want to, I wanted to stay and continue studying, I thought I could make it in Turkey. One day, I was on holiday, my brother came into the room. I had just woken up, he told me to pack my things because we are leaving now. I refused, I told him that I would not go. I am the youngest in my family, I was very attached to my father and could not imagine without him fleeing, he was still in Syria. My mother called my father when I heard his voice, tears came to me. I cried and cried. My father told me that this journey would secure my future, I cried. Again I refused, how could I flee without my father? I will not go without him. My brother packed his things, everything went quickly. When I saw him getting ready, I told him to wait. I told him to wait five minutes and I packed my things. Within one minute I decided to flee, because I had no one but him, my big brother. When he leaves, there is no one left to back me up.
We fled in a group of three, my brother, my friend and I. By bus we went to Izmir, as Syrians we were forbidden to travel within Turkey. We found a smuggler in Izmir. At that time I was 19 years old. I did not experience my youth. Everything I saw in Syria, on the flight and in the war, took me the most beautiful years of my life, years which I was not allowed to experience. The smuggler called us on the same evening and told us that a journey would take place later. At midnight he called us and told us he would pick us up in 30 minutes. We were picked up by a taxi, the taxi driver worked with the smuggler, he knew exactly where we had to go. We drove to a house, where the people who wanted to go with the rubber dinghy met. We promised ourselves before the trip that we would not go if there were women or children on the boat, because nobody could reassure them when they cried, because they would suffer much more than we did. There were many people at the house, many women, many children. We called the middleman of the smuggler and told him that we were no longer leaving. The middleman told us that the people would be distributed on two boats. We had no choice. Another boat wouldn’t come for another two days. So we decided to go.
After a while the smuggler came and called us down to the street. Each of us had a bag with us and bought a lifejacket before the escape. We got into a truck; my brother, my friend and I. We were the first to get in. Many people were in the car. It was dark. My brother ran behind me and my friend ran behind my brother. We held on to each other. When I arrived at the end of the car I felt a piece of metal, I thought it was a chair and wanted to sit down. But it wasn’t a chair, it was a man in a wheelchair. We drove for an hour, none of the people in the car spoke Arabic. We arrived at the meeting point. The smugglers came by boat, they told us that mobile phones are forbidden, cigarettes are forbidden and speaking aloud is also forbidden. We waited two hours, they prepared the rubber dinghies. We put on the life jackets before we boarded. We were scared, became insecure. None of our family knew that we were going, they knew that we were going to Europe, but when, nobody knew. The sight of so many people made us even more insecure. I got into the dinghy, the middleman gave me his number, because I was the only one with a waterproof mobile phone. I was supposed to use the GPS to keep sending him our location. Everything around me was dark, I could only hear the driver’s voice. I saw nothing, no sky above, no sea next to me. I saw nothing.
The Turkish Seaguard drove the whole trip behind us. The driver could not drive the boat, the boat drove to the left and right. At first it was very adventurous. We were 57 people and the boat was very small. I was supposed to tell the driver to hurry, but whenever he went faster the boat started to sway. It was dangerous. After a while I had no more Internet connection. The contact with the lock smuggler broke off. The waves became stronger and stronger, it was cold, we had just January. I didn’t tell anyone that my internet was down, otherwise they would have panicked and the situation would have been even worse. I yelled at the people not to move. I was scared, but tried to hide them. I forced myself to be stronger than the others, but inside I was afraid, afraid for my life. After more than eight hours of driving, the sun rose. Me and a few others noticed that the boat began to sink into the water. The further we went, the further the Greek island moved away from us. I took pictures, even if I would erase them, in my memory they are always present. Because I was the only one who spoke English, I was supposed to call the Seaguard, so I called them, someone picked up but didn’t speak. I told him to save us. A voice then asked where we were. How was I supposed to know? I told him we were near the island, about 25km. He said okay and hung up. When I called again, an Arabic-speaking man answered. He told me that the Seaguard was on its way looking for us. After a while, rescue ships came from two sides. The first one carried a Swedish flag.
They told us to go after them. I told him that we were out of gas and water was getting into our boat. We got water to drink and they stopped next to us. After 15 minutes the ship left and two bigger ships came. They took us out of the dinghy. First the women and children, then the others. My brother and I were the last on the boat. Because of the long trip, it was hard for me to move my legs, my brother had to carry me up. Then I pulled my brother on the boat. We arrived on Samos, a Greek island. It was beautiful, small and quiet. They took us to a camp, where we were taken care of. We just wanted to sleep. Next, we were examined and registered. I translated for the people. On the third day, in the evening, my friend and I met two girls behind the camp. One of them is still a very important person for me. We got documents and were allowed to go by ship to Athens.
Arrived in Athens, we first ate something, then we took the bus to the Macedonian Greek island. We got off the bus and walked to the border. At the border there were policemen, one of them took my document and told me it was forged. He took it from me. The people behind me went back. After half an hour everyone was allowed to go through, except me. My brother also had to leave, I had to stand at the side. I stood at the border for four hours, it was cold and raining until a UN employee saw me. She asked me what had happened, I explained it to her. She went away and came a while later with my document. I could go. Everything was dark and the ground was uneven, I was looking for a light, a sound, something. Further ahead I saw containers and people standing in front of them. Here is the rescue, I said to myself. When I arrived there, many people were standing there. A policeman at the end of the room called out to the crowd who of the people could speak English. I answered the call. He called me to him and told me to help him lead the groups to a place. I didn’t care, I just wanted to see my brother. When they gave me something to eat in another room, I looked around and went looking for my brother and the others. I searched and searched until I found someone I knew, he told me where my brother was. When I did not find him, I stopped and called his name. He found me and called me to him. When we saw each other, we smoked a cigarette together.
Then we ran to the train and drove to Serbia. The man in the wheelchair came with us, his family had left him alone. We were registered in Serbia. Between Serbia and Croatia there was a big investigation, we were all searched, four hours later we were allowed to move on. We had nothing to eat and nothing to drink. From Croatia we drove further to Austria, shortly before the border we got out and drove with the bus onwards. When we arrived at the border, we were taken in by the German police, who drove us by car from Austria to Germany. We arrived in Germany, Passau. The policeman asked who wanted to stay in Germany and who wanted to go on to another country. Everyone wanted to stay, except my brother, my friend and me. We got off the bus and went into a building. After an hour an interpreter came and called our names. He handed me a document and told me to sign it. I refused and asked him to translate it for me first. He told me this document was a deportation. When I asked him where we were going now, he said, back to Austria. They took us into a police car.
In Austria we went to a camp. They took all our documents. When we arrived at the camp, I began to cry. After a while the police came again, they gave us a deportation from Austria. No one helped us, they went and left us alone. One from the camp told us we could go where we wanted. We went out and looked for a train station. We arrived at a station where we met a Moroccan. It was very cold. We drove to Vienna. We bought tickets to Hamburg, from there we wanted to go to Scandinavia. But because we got on the wrong train, we unfortunately missed our train to Hamburg. We had spent our last money on the tickets. We called friends to send us money, that’s what they did. We bought new tickets. We boarded the train and arrived again in Passau. The police stopped us and drove us to the same building. The interpreter asked what we were doing here. We told him that we wanted to stay in Germany now. We drove on to Frankfurt, two days later we drove on to Leverkusen. I still live there today.
My life in Germany is a beautiful life, I am not afraid anymore, not like before. Today, I have much more hope and also more possibilities. I am a social worker and play voluntary handball in a club. I live a normal life and would like to be someone who leaves something behind in this world when he leaves. I would like the world to say I left something, a fingerprint in this place. I would like to make the world a better place. Telling my stories was nice because only the strong can remember bad moments and I feel like a strong person. After sharing my story with the A Million Stories project, I feel hopeful that my voice, my story and everything I’ve experienced will reach people.
Storyteller’s name: Omar al-Matroud
Interviewer’s name: Sarah El Desoke
Country of origin: Syria