In my own words

“I decided that I had lost too much. That I had seen too much.”

Testimony from a Syrian man – 23 years old, from North of Syria.

This person is of Druze origin. He explained that there was a local conflict between tribes going on for many years in his village in Northern Syria. He said this conflict was not about religions, religions are about peace, and these people just didn’t like having a pacific dialogue. He studied sociology to understand this kind of dynamics of conflict between people, for generations. The regime later came there and tried to force him to join the military. His friend he travelled with came from the same village. They met on the move, in Sudan.

He was walking to his university, like every day, in his hometown, when the protests against President Bashar Al-Assad first erupted. People in his hometown were dying each day in the civil war between Assad’s forces and antigovernment insurgents. The Bashar forces stopped him and said “now, time to be one of our army soldiers”.

From my point of view, they were terrorist groups. What happened to me that day, I can’t describe it in words. The soldiers started pushing and beating me in the street. I can’t be a soldier like them, killing people, my people”.

He got lucky that day because one old woman barreled in the street begging the gun-toting soldiers to spare these men (him and others). She understood what was going on and pretended they were “her son, her neighbors”. The interviewed man had never seen that woman before, but the soldiers relented. The stranger saved his life that day.

He returned home but he had resolved to flee Syria. He talked with his mother and brothers about what happened to him. “It was war: a missile crashed into a nearby building. We could have been killed in Syria”, he said. Then he reached out to an underground group known for smuggling Syrians into Sudan after Jordan. He was fortunate the smugglers had space in a private car to carry him and his brother (friend from the same village, who was there during the interview) to the border the next day. He found the ride, which left them in a town on the porous border with Jordan. The following morning, they walked out the door and left their life behind. On the other side (Jordan), buses and trucks were waiting to shuttle fleeing families to relative safety for some time. 5 days later, he arrived at the Zaatari refugee camp, a makeshift city of 85.000 people, plagued by rape and violence. As the crisis deepened, it became the fourth-largest city in Jordan. A lot of asylum seekers spent years there, waiting for the UN’s refugee agency to register them and complete the laborious process of resettling them abroad.

The same online smugglers carried him out of the camp, he paid 1.200 dollars.

All the time, I told myself, I didn’t want to come and go out of Syria, it was so far from my old life”.
I got a visa from Jordan, with my friend, to Sudan, paying a lot of money. It was my first time on an airplane. That day, I told myself “Good bye discrimination”. Ten days in Sudan with my friend and we got a new visa to Tripoli, Libya, in April 2017. We expected to find a normal airport, but this one was small and there were a lot of “babies” in uniforms (children and teenagers) holding weapons. “They arrested me and my friend and took us to a prison straight from the airport. They said that we were trafficking people. They took our money, our papers, our clothes. They beat us. They asked us to call our parents for money. We said ‘we don’t have any parents. Let us free’”. Their family was already caught in a war and they didn’t know if they were still alive.

We spent all the money we got to get our freedom. We got out of the prison without money, nothing. I started looking for any work. Every time I got small work to do like construction, my Libyan boss held my pay and gave me just a small meal allowance to be alive and get energy to work for him another day”. Before coming to Libya, he thought he would meet good people, but “unfortunately I met only bad people”. He was planning to cross the sea before coming to Libya, some of his friends did and succeeded, because he “had no other choice but to cross by the sea”.

After two months, I was ready to say ‘no’ again to this life. So I was thinking to call the authorities or leave immediately. Thanks God, the Libyan man pushed me away and said I couldn’t work and didn’t have any energy to work. I left and moved to Zuwara.”

I managed to find another site to work on for a weekly pay and in a month time, I had enough to leave this country in which Syrians have no shelter, are denied food and life in the absence of any semblance of human decency. All the time, I was thinking back to Syria and told myself it was not actually the worst. Libya was. A lot of people would deliberately hit us with their cars because we were Syrians. We would be searched anytime we were in public. Not having anything of value on oneself was worse than being robbed as it ensured a hefty beating at best. A few weeks in, I was captured and locked in a “hammam” for 84 days by Libyan traffickers. Sometimes, I would receive some water and a small biscuit. One night, as we were attempting to get some semblance of sleep, the Libyan “police” attacked us. Ten people were killed before my eyes, with no medical attention. It was in this moment I decided I had lost too much. I had seen too much. I was able to scrape enough together to cross back into Sudan. I heard that some Libyans in Sudan facilitated with cash transfers. So I went back to work to send some money to them. But one evening, when I was close to having saved enough to continue my return trip, the police found me in the makeshift shelter I was sleeping in. They searched me and asked me where I had gotten the cash I was hiding. They took everything and locked me up.”

I had no choice in this country. After two months, I decided to move again and cross the sea. I paid 2.700 dinars with another 21 people to one Libyan and crossed the sea to Europe. I left from Zuwara in the night. We were rescued by an oil vessel in the Mediterranean. After that, we met SOS and MSF.

Now, I want to go to a safe place, I don’t have a name yet for that place. I would like to continue my studies as well.

Interview: Hassan Ali
Photo: Anthony Jean