When Mohammed, 38, refused to serve Assad's forces food for free at his restaurant in Damascus, he was arrested with a gun to his head. This is his story.
I had a good life before the war. I cooked at my restaurant in the daytime. In the weekends, I enjoyed spending time together with my family and friends. We would go to the park, and sometimes visit friends. I loved those days, and I miss them, but I know they are never coming back.
In the beginning, when the protests started, I felt joy. Like I was starting to reclaim my freedom from the government, from the dictator and oppressor. I would go home from work and follow the latest events on the news and via social media. We joined the peaceful protests every Friday.
The regime's response was arresting men, women, and even children. The regime called them traitors.
But Assad's army, the same army whose job it was to protect its people and country from foreign enemies, turned on the protesters with sharp ammunition. They killed peaceful people. The revolution grew and more people deserted from the army, young people, and officers. They started what they called the Free Syrian Army. The regime's response was arresting men, women, and even children. The regime called them traitors.
Damascus was changing. A city once beautiful, filled with joy and love, was being destroyed and getting dark. Roadblocks were set up in the streets where the military was controlling people. They became Assad's personal robbers. They turned up at my restaurant every day, wanting free food. I couldn't decline. But when the prices went up, I could no longer afford it. One day, I said no. Later that evening while I was closing the restaurant, they stopped me, put a gun to my head and arrested me.
I can't share any more details of that episode, the memories hurt too much.
I fled to Egypt. My mother needed medical attention, but she died. Despite the sorrow, I met the woman of my life. We got married. After one year in Egypt, I and my wife fled to Europe. She was then five months pregnant.
The journey over the ocean took six days, and there wasn't any food available.
We stepped on board a small, crowded wooden boat along with 300 other refugees. The journey over the ocean took six days, and there wasn't any food available. Before getting on board, the smugglers had taken all of our money. Once we got to Italy, we couldn't afford anything. My wife had started bleeding and we had to go to the hospital.
I managed to contact some relatives that were able to transfer some money. After my wife's visit to the hospital, we went to a restaurant and ate for the first time in a week. That was the best meal of my life. A meal that ended the worst nine days of my life.
When we finally reached Sweden in August 2014, personnel from the Migration Agency met us. They treated us like family like they were expecting us. They were very, very kind. I then realized that the long journey had not been in vain.
I miss them so much. My father, my sister and my friends.
I was very happy, but I still felt sad by the fact that I was so far away from the rest of my family. I miss them so much. My father, my sister and my friends. And I still think about my restaurant and all the good memories of my life in Syria.
My expectations of Sweden were that we would be safe here and that people wanting jobs could get one. I didn't expect it to be this cold, though. I also didn't know that the only wars in Sweden take place in the laundry room.
I got my residence permit in August 2015, and I now live in Valdemarsvik. I like it here. My apartment is in a small village where everyone knows everyone. My job is close by and the apartment is clean. My neighbors are very nice to me, my wife, and my daughter. I've also made new Swedish friends, among them a couple that I met via a friend living in Sweden. They've helped us find an apartment and got me a job.
If Sweden offers permanent residence permit to all Syrians, why is the process taking such a long time?
In my view, it would be easier for people new to Sweden to get into society if they were allowed to take language courses. Not just sit around in the asylum accommodations. If Sweden offers permanent residence permit to all Syrians, why is the process taking such a long time?
People new to Sweden ought to respect Swedish customs and traditions, and put up an effort to integrate themselves into society quickly. They should give back to the Swedish government and the Swedish people by working and being productive.
As for myself, I work as a chef, something I've already been doing for 14 years. If I were to study something, it would be within that industry, to get my skills documented.
The only thing I worry about for the future is not being able to see my father again. I will not return to Syria after the war ends. If the war ends, I'm not so sure about that. If it does, Syria will probably become like Iraq och Libya. Syria will only get new Assad's in power, unfortunately.