Abdel outside of his new home in Sweden.

He sought his religion for something that could give him support to be himself . He had been hiding long enough. When Abdel, 34, told his friends that he wanted to leave Islam, they didn't want anything to do with him. This is his story.

My father died when I was three years old. I grew up with my mother and two siblings. I went to school until the age of 18 when I was called up for military service.

I was afraid of a society that hated homosexuals, that humiliates them. Like it's a crime punishable by death.

After 30 months of military service, I returned home to my family and started working with women's shoes and accessories. I wanted to make enough money to cover all of my family's expenses. I worked 14 hour shifts, sometimes during the weekends as well. Being homosexual, I tried finding friends outside of work. I couldn't be friends with anyone that didn't accept my sexual orientation.

All of my friends and acquaintances were homosexual. We would meet secretly, which was difficult, especially considering I had to work so many hours. Despite everything, I managed to maintain a good reputation. I was exceptional.

I had moved to Damascus when the war started, and I visited my family every other week. But traveling between the cities became increasingly difficult. Sometimes, it would take up to 14 hours. The tickets were getting more expensive. Everything was getting more expensive. Basic services, like water, electricity, and food, were getting harder to come by. Even though me and my brother were working, we struggled to support our family.

Things weren't safe anymore. I was afraid of a society that hated homosexuals, that humiliates them. Like it's a crime punishable by death. I read the Islamic scriptures looking for a defense of people like me. But I found nothing, just that I deserved to die. I searched in other religions, but only found the same hatred. So I decided to become an atheist.

When I told my friends, however, they wouldn't accept it. Even though they were homosexual like me. They stuck to their religion and morals. They didn't want anything to do with me anymore, because it meant they'd have to kill me. Because a person that converts from Islam deserves to die.

So, I had a double death sentence, for my homosexuality and for my conversion. I quit my job in Damascus and went back to Aleppo. Once there, we sold all our furniture to afford leaving the country.

We went to Turkey. Dealing with the smugglers was worse than dealing with Isis warriors. But it was the only way to get to Greece. We obeyed them, in hope of finding safety.

They shoved us into buses, along with children, women, and the elderly. We reached the ocean, but the weather was bad. The smugglers wanted to take us back, but we refused. So we waited for nine hours for the weather to clear up. We had to inflate the rubber boats ourselves. The smugglers took all of our bags and belongings before we got on board. They said the load would be too heavy otherwise. There were 55 of us on a boat made for 30 people.

We ran out of gas before we reached the shore, but we kept paddling on with our hands. Everyone helped, including children and the old. We all burst into tears when we reached the shoreline.

The first people we encountered was a group from the Red Cross. It was the first time in my life someone treated me as a human being. Or actually, they treated me like an angel that had left heaven. It moved me deeply. I realized that I had been in a living hell my whole life.

The escape route

I had originally planned to go to the United Kingdom, since I speak English. But I had thought a lot about learning a new language to improve my chances of finding a job. Also, Syrians were granted permanent residence permits in Sweden. I wouldn't have to depend on the mercy of time. So I chose to go to Sweden.

I arrived here in October 2015. I told the Swedish Migration Agency about my homosexuality, which was the first time I'd ever told a government authority about it. I was happy about being in Sweden, but also afraid of the unknown, and sad about all the memories and people I had left behind.

They treated me like an angel that had left heaven. It moved me deeply. I realized that I had been in a living hell my whole life.

Adjusting to a new country was easy for me. But I had hoped to get started sooner. I wanted to be an active member of society, find a place to live and study. I feel the pressure of time since I have to start from scratch as a 34 year old. I haven't managed to arrange for a temporary social security number while awaiting my asylum request to be processed. I want to get started, find a life partner and start a family.

But then the new asylum law with its temporary residence permits was enacted, and my dreams were shattered.

Things are better now, even though I have yet to receive my residence permit, I like the place I live in very much. I met a homosexual family through a mobile phone app. I asked them for help and they wanted to meet me. We immediately became friends and they offered me to move in with them. I've met many new friends through them.

Abdel got in contact with a family via a phone app.

They've promised to be of help, regardless the circumstances. Their kindness and the safety that they provide soothes my mind and relaxes me. We have a great time together.

I met a homosexual family through a mobile app. I asked them for help and they wanted to meet me.

I've also started working with them. We work with horses. I love animals and would love to study to be a veterinarian. Perhaps I could work breeding horses in the future. Other than that, I have a great interest in music. DJ'ing used to be a hobby of mine, maybe I could do that professionally.

Personally, I like it here, but there are still things that Sweden can do to facilitate for new people to get into society. Language is the most important thing, and since it takes such a long time to get your asylum request processed, it would be nice if one could study while waiting. That way, refugees can get to know Sweden and talk to its citizens. But new people in Sweden also have obligations. You have to accept the traditions that exist in the society. You have to respect the law and set an example of yourself.

My biggest concern for the future is that I will be regarded as a terrorist. Just because of the country I was born in, an origin that I haven't chosen. But I'm also worried about being sent back to Syria once the war ends. I've never felt safe there, even before the war. I love Sweden and I've never even dreamed about being as happy as I am now in this country.

In Sweden, I can be open about my homosexuality and atheism. It gives me comfort that I've never experienced before. I can tell anyone, without having to be afraid.

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