I didn’t think there was another country that I could manage to live in

Male, 29 years old, from Lattekia Syrien, now living in Sweden Malmö.

I’m from Lattekia in Syria and my whole family are there.
I don’t know how where I will start my story, but I shall tell what happened exactly and what made me flee from my country. I was living in Syria in Lattekia, and I was working and it was a normal life, together with my family. It was right after I finished my obligatory military service, and at this time it was my plan to get married and to work and live a normal life. Then the events began in Syria. There were demonstrations, and people wanted freedom and they started to express their opinions, and we were with them. Not at first, but after some time we joined them, and said the same things. Our situation was very bad, especially the young boys who finish their military service and their studies. They didn’t have a future. The families are not capable of supporting their children. The families are living from the help of their children, and they live sparingly. They only pay the rent and buy food, and don’t have much extra money to help their children and support their future. Everyone who was 20 years old and finished the high school he joins the military and finish it. After he finishes the military then his life can begin: to work and establish an economy for a good future, so he can marry for example when he is 25, 26 or 30 years old. Before I went to the military, I told my family that I wanted to get engaged, and when I was still in the military, short time before finishing it, I got engaged. When I finished my military service I started to work a lot to collect money for me and my fiancé’s future.
But when the events started happening and the problems began, some people stopped working, people were afraid of what would happen. Every day something new happened and the events developed quickly. In the beginning it was only demonstrations, and then also killings, and then terrorism. No one understood what was going to happen.
One day after dinner, my friend asked me if I would like to go for a walk, and we did. I walked. It was only five minutes walk from my home. I saw my friend and then, when we were walking together, the police came and took me. They didn’t say why. They put a cover for my eyes, so I didn’t know where I was going, and they put me in the car. They took me to one of their departments, where they held me captured, and after 6 days they moved me to the prison, and I was there for two months and 16 days. The first 6 days were very difficult, but after they took me to the prison it was like a normal condition in a prison. In the first 6 days they beat me, threw cold water on us, and I was tied up with my hands over my head to the wall for two days, and there was no food… Violence and violations. After 6 days, during which they could not find anything on me – I was only walking around outside with my friend. I didn’t do anything against the government, they moved me to the prison. When I got out of prison finally I didn’t have left any hope and the goals that I was thinking about before. I could not think about anything besides the problems and how we could overcome this, so that we can start our life again. People started to give me advice to travel. But whereto should I travel? I didn’t think there was another country that I could manage to live in. We don’t like traveling actually. Maybe most Syrians, I think, don’t like traveling, and actually I didn’t even have a passport before. I made my first passport after I got out of prison. I never ever thought of traveling outside of my country. I was happy with my life in my city Lattekia. I never thought of leaving, eventhough I know the situation before was not so good politically, educationally, and with regards to freedom, democracy, job opportunities for everyone and not just for certain groupings/tribes of people and the fact that it was difficult to establish something. There was a lot of inequality.
But after what happened, I found myself in a situation where I didn’t know what to do, except do as they adviced me to. I searched where I could travel, and I found out that Libya could be a good option. In Libya there were jobs and there was not war. We talked with some people in Libya that my family in-law knew, to know about the living situation there. They said, come here. You can easily get a job and a place to live, and its safe here.
So I decided to go, because here in Lattekia life became hard, and it seemed that the situation was getting worse and worse. Again and again people were arrested without reason. If your age was between 18-25 or -30, then the risk that you would be arrested was higher than if you were older in age, because they were more suspicious of young people with regards to being associated with the occupation and to be doing something against the government. So for this reason I was a target. My age also played a role in all of this. Furthermore they could demand me to go back to the military, especially because I just recently finished my military service. I finished it 1,5 months before the uprising began in Syria. And I would be amongst the men who the military would first call on when they needed more soldiers.
So I travelled to Lebanon, and took a flight to Egypt. In Egypt I stayed for 10 days and then I went to Libya. I stayed with a family until I found a shared apartment with other young men. I started to work. In the beginning, I didn’t know anyone, and therefore the first 4-5 months my job situation was not so good. I maybe worked 7 days in a months. I took any work I could get. One day I would work with painting, the next day I would lay tiles, and another day as an electrician. Later, after I got to know many people, I found a fulltime job, and eventually my situation became better and I started to be self-employed as an electrician.
Afterwards problems also began in Libya. Not just because of the president and the unstable political situation, but also problems between the people. Groupings with weapons started to threaten people, demand money and kidnap people. At one point, during an attempt to flee Libya, I met with one of these groupings.
I went with some friends and we were thinking to flee across the sea to Europe. I was actually against the idea of fleeing over the Mediterranean Sea. My situation was ok concerning work, so my opinion in the beginning was, that there was no reason to risk my life and maybe die in the sea. But at the same time, I had found out that it was impossible for me to get family reunification with my wife. I had to have Libyan citizenship in order to do that. I eventually changed my mind and decided to flee to Europe because I wanted to reunite with my wife. We had been apart for a long time. And also because of the situation in Libya that was getting more and more unstable. I thought, if the problems in Libya would continue or even get worse, then it would not be safe for me. Maybe someone would come and kidnap me or shoot me. I was a stranger in this country, so I felt there was a bigger danger for me. Many people talked about the subject of fleeing, and I knew many people who had already left. Finally I was convinced that I had to do it.
I paid 1000 dollar to go on a boat. We agreed on everything with the smuggler. We should wait in an empty building before getting on the boat. We stayed for one day and no one came. On the second day a person came and assured us that they were taking care of the arrangements. Then the third day came and still no one came to say that the boat was ready. Everyday they said “soon” or “tomorrow”. Finally they told us “tomorrow at noon”, but the time passed, and still no boat. We got more and more worried. Were we going or not? Then a grouping entered the building. They were carrying weapons and they began to beat us. They didn’t spare anyone – the young and the old. There were also women and children, and it was difficult for us to witness this, because we could not do anything, for they were pointing towards us with Kalashnikovs. We could not hit them or defend ourselves, because they would likely kill us. I could sense by their characters that they were crazy and unpredictable people. They had long hair and a kind of scary figure, as if they were on drugs. And their clothes was dirty.
They demanded all of our money and our passports. I gave them 1000 dollars. Everyone gave them 1000 dollars each, and some people also gave them their passport. They also came to me and said: give me your passport. I said I didn’t have one. I had one, but I didn’t want to give it to them. Enough, I mean, they could take my money, but not my passport. They escaped quickly after they got what they wanted.
This assault, it think, was of course planned with the smugglers. No one could know that we were here in the empty building, so they probably were cooperating with the smugglers.
Children were crying and people were confused about what to do now. Some people said lets go to another neighborhood and try to find another way to flee. Some people even said they wanted to stay there to wait for the smugglers and get their money back, but I didn’t care about the money. The important thing was that we were alright. We had to get out of here quickly, because maybe the group would come back and kill us.
At last I left the area with a group of people, and we arranged with another smuggler to get to Europe. I was going to travel with three families, and we stayed with the smuggler in his home while he was trying to arrange a boat. After three days he finally said to us that tomorrow there was a boat for us. The next day we went out early in the morning when it was still dark outside, so that the police would not see us. We moved along some small houses at the beach, where we could hide behind. It was frightening actually. We ran quickly, then stopped to hide and then ran a little again, and we continued like that. Finally we arrived at the shore. There was a small boat that they used to bring people out to the bigger boat, and people started to get onboard. We sent women, children and families out to the big boat first. There were many people, and just before it was our turn to go they said that they could not take more people on the boat. And we were soaked. And we just had to go back. The sun was also risen and we had to get out of here quickly. And they said run, run quickly! We didn’t understand what to do, they just said run… we didn’t know where to. We moved quickly along the shore and our clothes became very dirty and totally wet. We arrived at an empty house where they put us in, and we should pretend that we were living in this house so that no one would be suspicious. Later they moved us to another area. We should stay in an empty and apartment without light and electricity until the next day. The next day we went again to the shore very early in the morning, and this time we succeed in getting onboard. This boat was called the Giraffe. It had three floors, and we were 750 people on it. It was an old boat, and it didn’t seem safe enough. It could easily sink, but we question it that much, because we were destined to go. We sold all our things in Libya, we were finally here and we didn’t want to go back, so we went.
Everytime a person was standing up and walking for example to go to the toilet, then everything was moving. It’s very difficult when people are moving, because it makes an unbalance of the weight, and the boat moves with them. Maybe the boat could turn over at any moment. It was difficult for the captain to sail the boat with so many people. The captain was a refugee from amongst us. He was actually not educated as a captain. His brother was a captain, so he called his brother some times to ask for advice on how to sail. We sailed for nine hours, and during all this time people were afraid. Some people threw up and some cried Every time the boat moved a little bit, everyone screamed – the young and the old. If the boat overturned then what could we do? We would be helpless, because not everyone had a life west. There were not enough wests for everyone, so we gave the wests to the women and children. So for nine hours we were only thinking when will we arrive, and we were also worried to lose our way. I was thinking, Oh God please let the captain lead us in the right direction. It could be that he unknowingly was sailing to Tunisia or I don’t know where, so we were all worried.
We saw a ship coming with the Italian flag on it. Short time before one of the passengers talked with someone from the Italian cost guard. He had with him a kind of GPS or walkie-talkie that he could use to contact some people. He talked with him in English, and then another passenger assisted him because he could speak in Italian. They told the coast guard that we were 750 people, circa 250-300 of them children, and that our boat could overturn at any moment. They must have sent this ship.

When people saw the ship they became crazy and everyone began to sheer, move and stand up, and many wanted to jump in the water in order to be one of the first people to reach the warship. It was dangerous, because we were 750 people and if everyone would jump then the boat would overturn for sure before the warship got to us. During the trip, I had gathered with some friends, about 12 persons, and we tried to keep people calm and gain order on the ship, because we were so many people, and there were no rules on the ship. People only got on this boat, but no one established some rules. It was necessary to have some rules for the sake of everyone’s safety. So for example, if a person was moving too much then we prevented him from doing so, so that we could ensure the safety. This went well for nine hours. I mean some people transgressed the rules, but overall it was ok, but when this warship came, and everyone wanted to move and get up, then it was impossible to keep people calm.

The ship stopped at a distance and sent small boats to take us to it. The coast guard also shouted to us that we should keep calm and don’t jump in the water or anything like that. There was also a danger to them if our boat overturned then they could go down with us because they were so close to us. After about 10-15 people jumped the rest of the people listened and stayed back.
When we arrived at the ship of the coast guard, they collected our belts in order not to kill ourselves with them. We sailed for two days. It took so long because they were sailing around and looking out for more ships to help. There were no food for us, but no one was thinking about it, we were only relieved that we were safe and thinking about arriving in Italy. After one day in the ship we were so cold. No one had with them warm clothes, so they gave us silver-blankets. I think it was funny how we looked like silver-mummies. The trip with this ship was a nice and ugly trip at the same time.
We arrived in Italia, in Sicilia. The church there welcomed us and gave us food and possibility to get a shower. They made many good things for us. They helped us and felt for us. Here everyone began to think about which country they wanted to go for. My goal was to go to Sweden, because I had friends there. Some wanted to go to for example Netherlands and some to Denmark. Everyone had a different aim, and they chose a destination, and wherever one would get “caught” by the border security and demanded to give fingerprints, then that would be the destination country. Short time after we got to Milano where the red cross were and they also helped us. They also made room for us in a church that had become like a refugee camp. They hosted us there for some time until we found our own way to continue our travel. People gathered in groups to arrange the kind of transportation and destination they wanted. I went together with four other guys with an Albanian car all the way from Milano to Denmark. We wanted to go to Sweden, but he said he could only take us to Denmark, and we knew that we could then take the train easily. So had our friends in Sweden told us. We went with this “taxi” through Austria and Germany to Denmark. It took about two days to get there, and we could not make a lot of stops. We were not allowed by the driver, because of the risk that he would get caught smuggling us. We even ran out of drinking water, and we could not go to the bathroom. He took the price of 750 euro from each person. 3750 euro all together. It’s like the price of a car.

We arrived in Denmark, ate a little, when to the bathroom and so on, and then we bought our tickets to Sweden and went. There were no border control. I’m very surprised that we didn’t meet any border control on our whole trip from Italy. It was an easy trip for us. Even our trip from Libya across the Mediterranean Sea also went easy, I think, compared to many other people. Some other people stayed on their ships for 19 hours or two or three days for example. All thanks to God we were only there for 9 hours. I mean it was terrifying, but compared to others it was easy.

We arrived in Sweden. First day in Malmö, and then they moved us to Stockholm. First we were in an area in Stockholm called Telefonplan for 4 days, and then they moved us to Solna. Then we came back again for a while, and then they moved us to Örebro, outside of Örebro in a village called Lindesberg. We stayed for 15 days and then they moved us again to Kopperberg. It was like that. This reminded me of when I was in the military service, where they would also move us around from camp to camp all the time, like one day in Damascus, then one day in Aleppo, first outside of Aleppo and the in the city and so on. Anyway, the situation was good.
So I’m still here in Sweden, I have been here now for 4 years, and my situation from the beginning in Sweden till now, All thanks to God, turned around 360 degrees in the better direction. Before it was very difficult, because when one is new to a country he doesn’t know the language jet, and he also needs to get to know people and establish a social network, who can help each other, and he need to get the right help from the immigration service. If there were no proper help, then maybe we would not succeed. Some refugees here succeed and got better here, while some got worse, destroyed. This depends on the programs that they have here in this country, if they are actually helpful or not. When there are real, powerful and authentic programs that help the refugees then it can really change something for a refugee in a short amount of time.
After one year in Sweden, I got my residence permit, and then I immediately applied for family reunification with my wife. My wife had stayed in Syria since the time I left in 2012, so at this time I hadn’t seen her for 2,5 years. After I applied it took another 2,5 years before we got the permit for her. I booked appointments for her in many Swedish embassies, for example in Turkey, but they closed the borders. In 2016 Sweden opened up an embassy in Sudan, and immediately I booked an appointment there. In 2017 I traveled to Sudan, and met with her there for the interview. I also traveled to Malaysia in 2016 just to see her. Malaysia and Sudan are the only two countries that allows Syrians to travel there without applying for visa.

My life in Sweden was difficult in the beginning, but after I learned the language more, I got some friends here. I started to mingle with swedes. I’m working now, and I actually found this job with the help of some of my Swedish friends. The social network is really important, and after one finds a job then he finds everything in front of him. Everything is good now, my wife is with me, and we now have a little daughter.
Syria is beautiful, there is no place like Syria. I still miss it very much, and my whole family is still there. I talk with them often on the phone, but I don’t get fulfilled by the phone calls, I long for the feeling of being with my family in reality – to sit with them, hug them, eat with them, go for trips together. The phone doesn’t do anything. You can for example use the phone to solve a problem, or to ask your family how they are, but you don’t fell the same thing as if you were there with them. So this is the situation now. Most refugees here are far away from their families, or their families died. I really hope that I get a chance to meet with my family again, and this thought is always on my mind. I hope that Syria returns to a good state soon, and becomes better than before.

But the reality is not so optimistic. No one, I mean no countries are really helping Syria. It has been 7 years and they are still just talking and talking. They don’t care about our situation, they just like to feel or look smart when they talk. They say, “We don’t want refugees.” Ok, but then they should not sell weapons and contribute to the war that we are fleeing from. You don’t want refugees, and we didn’t think about coming here before. We were actually happy in our country. If you didn’t want us to come here, then you shouldn’t have made this war in our country. Many countries only think about the economy, and therefore they sell weapons. They don’t think about the consequences. Some countries like for example Sweden needs more people, and if a country wants refugees, then they can make a war in order to get the people coming. In Sweden about 1/3 of the population are immigrants or refugees.

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