Basel, 24 , remembers an evening when a Serbian village held a party for him and the other refugees. How they made him forget all the terrible things he had been through. This is Basel's story.
I will never forget the last night before my journey began. I sat on the roof of our house and watched the Qasioun mountain, the symbol of our struggle and our resistance. I would be forced to leave my country.
I didn't want to participate in the war. The Arab countries had closed their doors in our faces, I had no other option than to leave for Europe. But I didn’t know what to do.
The winter was hard, but we could feel the heat in the rain of bombs, rockets and mortar fire. I, who previously lived an ordinary life and had just begun my studies at the university, saw my friends being murdered or venture out into the battle. My brother was gone and my parents had fled to Jordan. They begged me to leave the war. The city was bombed from all sides.
But I refused to leave before my studies were done.
But my life had changed. From being a regular guy who liked to play football with friends and practicing boxing, walking with my family or go on vacation to the Syrian coast, I now lived alone in my parents' apartment. My life became darker and I began to feel a great loneliness, like a stranger in my own city.
We studied under the lights of candles, while outside one of the worst blizzards to ever hit my homeland was raging. I remember how every time I met loved ones it felt like it could be the last. And when I was done with my studies, it was too late, Jordan had closed its borders and the road to my parents was shut. I would have to escape on my own. In April 2015, I left.
I remember the journey in the back of a truck, I remember how the Greek police called us ugly names and how some people were beaten with batons in Croatia. Most clearly, I remember when the Hungarian authorities forced us to take a long route through the mud between Croatia and Hungary.
The police stood aside and watched as we fell down in the mud, over and over again. They laughed at us. The children cried when they saw their fathers fall. Fathers that dived into the mud, hoping it would provide their children a better life. They just had to make it through the nightmare.
Their smiles, their way to celebrate us, was enough for me to forget everything that happened before.
But I also remember the night when an entire Serbian village came to greet us in their cars, took us to a big square and welcomed us with a feast. Their smiles, their way to celebrate us, was enough for me to forget everything that happened before.
I asked one of them "why are you doing this for us?" He replied: "We have had our own war, we know." They had also been forced to flee to neighboring countries and had experienced what the Syrians are going through now.
When we finally arrived, I felt like a warrior who had won a battle. The cold, hunger and exhaustion had followed us all the way, but we made it. At the same time there was a fear of the unknown: What would wait us now? I knew nothing about Sweden, not even what language you spoke here.
I wanted to be close to my brother, friends and relatives who had fled to Germany. But I had fallen in love with a girl at the university of Damascus who convinced me that we should go to Sweden, where we would get married and start a new life. So I went with her, unfortunately it was over after just one month in our new country.
Now I live in an apartment in Kramfors along with ten others waiting to get asylum vengeance. They are very nice but because we are from different cultures, half of us are from African countries, our lifestyles are very different. They talk very loud at times and do not always bother to keep themselves clean. But it's good to not stay in a refugee camp.
I was afraid I would encounter racism and Islamophobia, but I understand that the Swedes know that radical Islam is absolutely not acceptable among Muslims.
My parents raised me to respect everyone. Therefore, my great fear when I came to Sweden was to be insulted or humiliated, as we were in Hungary. But the fear disappeared as soon as we arrived. The Swedes, with their high morality, has through their treatment removed all my worries. I was afraid I would encounter racism and Islamophobia, but I understand that the Swedes know that radical Islam is absolutely unacceptable among Muslims. On the contrary, it is what that destroyed our country and killed our brothers and sisters in Syria and Iraq, it’s why we moved.
The waiting has been hard. More than a year to get a residence permit, then another six months to get a place to stay. Only then can I begin to study the Swedish language. I've had a couple of jobs, in a supermarket for example, but the Public Employment Agency forced me to stop working because there were students who was going to work there in the summer.
At the same time the temporary residence permits stops us from continuing studying, and instead forces people work with anything - regardless of our desires or wishes. Thus dies the creative of many young people. Instead they become confused and afraid of the unknown.
It surprised me that there aren’t any activities or volunteer work for us newcomers. Most are young men, that means that Sweden now sits on a huge source to workers and ideas. All of us want to work, we didn't come here because of poverty or famine – we came from a war.
I want to continue my studies and doctorate so that I will be able to pay back to this country and its great people, to all those who helped us to a better life.
I am grateful to this country. I have to give back what I have been given, many times over.
I miss all the little details of my old life. I miss the oldest city on earth - Damascus, the pearl of the East. The city that was my morning, that I was forced to leave. I miss the place where I met my first love. I miss my family and my uncles, who I spent late evenings with. I miss my childhood friends. I miss the walls of my school. I miss the streets where I grew up in. I miss the Arabic bath in Damascus. I miss the traditional Syrian cuisine, like falafel and shwurma and tisiie.
I miss paying for me and hear someone say “moa'adin” - you will get it back. I miss the Qasioum mountain, the proud big mountain leaning over Damascus. It was one of the basic necessities of life, to look up at our mountain.
I miss Umayyad Mosque and the pigeons flying over the squares. I miss the days when we were brought up to respect all religions and all sects. To respect people no matter religion or focus in life.
But if I get the chance to have a new life here, I will not leave Sweden. I am grateful to this country. I have to give back what I have been given, many times over.