Jihad, 25, was involved in the Syrian revolution. When civil war broke out and he saw his friends being detained, he and his siblings decided to leave Syria. This is his story.
When the revolution began our area, Yarmouk in Damascus, was still pretty safe. I lived a young man's life, was interested in science and wanted to go to college. Our area received refugees from all of Syria. I worked in the camp, mostly with emergency assistance. But when the violence reached our area people who could give first aid was needed, so I did a course with the Red Cross. Over the course of two years we started several teams that worked with first aid in the camp.
For the last four years I helped out in a refugee accommodation run by The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, UNRWA, where 300 refugees lived – people who had fled intensively bombarded areas. Even our building was affected by the nearby battles. For a period I also worked as an assistant to the chief financial officer of an EU project to support young people in twelve Palestinian refugee camps in Syria.
In my free time, I would walk past the university to see what courses and exams there were, and in the evenings I helped arrange sports for young people.
During my last time in Syria, I worked as an instructor of first aid courses and media activities for the Syrian revolution. Al-Yarmouk had become a target for attacks, intense bombing, and siege. I saw how my close friends get imprisoned, often being forced to do military service. UN staff were a target for kidnapping. My friends were imprisoned or fled the country, and I saw how the revolution took the wrong path, it became an armed revolution.
The international community abandoned it and described it as a civil war. Because I was active in prohibited activities such as relief and the media, I had to leave, together with my siblings.
We went from Syria to Egypt. The smugglers forced us to sit and wait in a warehouse in an area where they manufactured drugs.
We went from Syria to Egypt. The traffickers forced us to sit and wait in a warehouse in an area where they manufactured drugs. We went across the sea to Italy, and we had to move between the different boats and I remember that women and children constantly needed help to cope with the journey.
The goal was to survive, to cross the ocean. When we had made it, my siblings and I started to discuss what country had the best conditions to create a new life. We considered the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden or Germany. We met a trafficker in a town north of Rome, and he would drive a bus to Malmo next day. That settled it. The entire trip from Syria to Sweden cost us more than $ 4,500 each.
I had very mixed feelings when we arrived. I wondered how the police and the Immigration Agency was going to treat us. Sweden was as I had expected, most of it was excellent, but I was shocked by the distances between where newcomers live and where the Swedes live. I also quickly noticed that the support to start a new life (with certain exceptions) comes from individual people - not from the government. I thought it would be the opposite.
I received a residence permit in May 2014. Today I live in Gothenburg, where I also work. The first Swedish friend I got was a guy that I met during a lecture on the besieged areas of Syria. I also met friends through work, we remained friends even though I changed job. We sometimes go on excursions outside Göteborg together.
I don’t think Sweden can do anything for a person who doesn’t want to integrate and settle down.
Every refugee has have risked his life to find a place to rest. Newcomers must try to transfer their experiences, practical and theoretical, to Sweden. You have to build relationships in addition to those found in the establishment plan by going to activities that the community organize, then you will understand the system and the life in Sweden.
I don’t really think Sweden can do anything for a person who doesn’t want to integrate and settle down. But the things the society can do is to find a serious solution to the housing problem, distances increase when people live so far apart. Also you could organize community programs that build real bridges between marginalized and non-marginalized groups.
To think about what I miss most in Syria makes me fly away in dreams, it happened to me right now. In short, I miss everything – the little details that I didn’t appreciate before. Like the atmosphere and the social life, the simple relationships between people. I miss the old town of Damascus, to ride the city buses. Of course, I miss my friends and my area, some streets in particular and the vines that hung in our neighborhood.
I think of how people from different generations and cultures used to gather outside my apartment that I helped build, until the MIG planes came and I had to leave.
But if I return to Syria or not depends on my work here in Sweden and the people I have left in Syria, if they’re there or not. A home is not only the building blocks of your house. I am a double refugee, Palestinian and Syrian. To settle down is my biggest dream. I have created a new life and a network in my new town, and people know me here as a newcomer and ask me for help because of my experiences of integrating quickly.
Gothenburg has become like a second Yarmouk for me, it just tastes a little different.