I have been living in the Netherlands for a little over two years now. Because I had to flee from Syria, I regularly get questions like: “How is the situation in Syria?”, “What do you think of the Netherlands?”, or “What are the differences between the two countries?”
But every time I try to answer, more questions follow. Then I become quiet. Especially when people ask me how I got here. Thinking of my journey, I get very emotional – my head gets foggy and I am unable to speak.
It was certainly not an easy decision for my parents, to send their own child on a journey with only a 50% survival rate. On the other hand, to stay in Damascus wasn’t an option. Walking in the streets I could have been killed by a bullet any second. I started to wonder about the value of human life. If one can die any moment by just one bullet …
To understand my experience, you must understand how my life was before the war. I was eleven and lived in the capital. I had just received my first mobile phone as a reward for the good grades I got at school. I went to school every day, and I loved it. I was just a regular kid like everyone else.
Then the war began.
Life becomes difficult
When the crisis reached the capital, my life became more difficult every day. My father was constantly worried and became angry more often. In a very short time my life had turned upside down.
Suddenly it was too dangerous for me to go to school. I wanted to go so badly, but my parents didn’t allow it. Sometimes I got dressed in the morning to head to school nevertheless, despite the danger. Then my parents would stop me at the door.
It’s 12 August 2015. I am at the airport, holding a ticket in my hand. My family is there to say goodbye. I feel weird, indecisive. I am afraid of the unknown. For the first time in my life I am thinking seriously about my future.
I had never seen my father cry, but as I was about to board the plane I saw tears in his eyes. In that moment, I realized that I could not disappoint my family. I suddenly found the courage to move forward, to continue, to take a leap.
I traveled with a friend who was two years older than me. Our first stop was Sabiha, Turkey. There we got off the plane and continued to Izmir by bus. That night we wandered about Izmir in search of a place to sleep. It seemed like there were plenty of rooms available. But as soon as we presented our passports and revealed ourselves as young Syrians, there suddenly were no more rooms available.
The following afternoon I made my first attempt to cross to Greece by boat. But I was arrested by the police and taken to a camp before I got a chance to even see the sea. I was picked up because I was among a group of Syrians.
After a 24-hour bus ride to the camp the authorities checked to see whether I came to Turkey legally or not. This “process” took a week. In the meantime, they held my phone and my passport. I also had to pay a fee of $100 – I still don’t understand why.
After a week, I was brought back to Izmir. I had to stay there for two weeks because a storm at sea prevented me from continuing my journey. Then I tried my luck again.
I will never forget the faces of the traffickers. For them, people are like sheep. They don’t value human life. You make a deal with them, but they might just as well sell you to someone else. They stuff 50 people into an inflatable boat, including women and children, and send it off into the unknown. This is how I crossed over to Europe.
Arriving in Europe
I arrived on the shores of a Greek island at 6 a.m. and decided to stay for a couple of days. I can’t remember the details, maybe because I have never spoken about it. Maybe I don’t want to remember. But at some point, I took a plane to Athens. Then my journey continued, mainly by foot. I passed through Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Germany. My memories of that part of the journey are blurry. Maybe because I was so tired, or maybe because my only focus was my destination.
Safe in the Netherlands
On 16 September 2015 I finally arrived in the Netherlands. Today I’m glad that I’m safe, but at the same time I don’t want to be here. My wish is to relive my childhood, as a normal child.
It wasn’t easy for me to write down my story. Rachma and Phebe helped me decide whether I should stay in my cocoon or share my story with you. Sharing is difficult. But even if it is, I have to learn to accept the past, so that I can go on into the future.
I just took a leap.
UNICEF Write 2 Unite is about young refugees and Dutch youngsters blogging together about school, religion, dreams and love. In this blog post Hisham from Syria (18) tells the story of his journey. He was helped by Rachma (16) who was born in Indonesia and Phebe (15) who is Dutch.