Syrians have become familiar with the prospect of seeking asylum in faraway lands. Over the past four years, nearly 150,000 Syrian refugees have declared political asylum in the European Union, most of them resettling in Germany and Sweden. Thousands more have attempted to make the journey to Europe, wagering their savings and their safety for the chance to be smuggled to the Western continent by land or sea. The trip is often deadly.
Among those who make it to Europe, some have managed to adapt and settle down, while others find the social and cultural differences difficult to overcome. Syria Deeply met with some young Syrians who have recently made it to Europe to seek asylum. They shared their personal perspectives on the homeland they've left behind, and what it would mean to build a new life in Europe.
Fadi, 33, a photographer from Damascus now living in Sweden
I never thought about leaving Syria before the revolution. I had my own media office and I was working with a good number of newspapers and magazines. I used to make about 120,000 Syrian liras a month back then ($480), but after November 2011, I became wanted by the regime. A year later I was also wanted by ISIS. So I was forced to leave Syria.
I came to Europe for my children’s sake; I wanted to ensure a decent life for them. This is a country ruled by law, and if I were to describe it I would say that this is a whole different planet compared to the standards of the Arab world. Yet I haven’t made up my mind about staying here in Sweden because Syria needs constructive people at this stage and in the future. I feel the need to go back, especially when the war is over. I believe I should go back to work in social affairs. In the end, I didn’t leave Syria until I was forced to. But even if I did return, I want my kids to stay here.
Juliana, 32, a housewife from Idlib now living in the Netherlands
I always wanted to move to Europe, even before the revolution, but my husband disagreed with me. At the start of 2012 we decided to go to Turkey after receiving threats – being opponents of the regime and living in Latakia (a city known for supporting the Syrian government). We tried to settle in Turkey but it was in vain. There is no future for us and our children there, and most importantly we couldn’t get jobs.
I don’t consider going back to Syria even when the war is over, unless for a short visit to see who’s left of my friends and family. The society here is very welcoming and people are so friendly; they always try to help Syrians integrate into their community. Here in the Netherlands they pay special attention to the children, and children are already more capable of adapting, which in fact matters to me the most ... I know they will have a happy life in this country. And of course there’s another important reason: Our countries lack justice and law, and it’s hard for me to accept the idea of going backward again.
Tareq, 38, a former government employee from Latakia now living in Norway
When the war started in Syria I could no longer put food on the table for my family. I was also coming under threat from opponents of the regime because I belong to the Alawite sect, although I didn’t participate in this war in any way. I came here mainly to save my family from war, and to work and help my mother in Syria.
Syrian refugees in Sweden — Photo: Rob Schoenbaum/ZUMA
So far I haven't been able to adapt to living here, and I’m not happy. For me Europe is a big lie. Children are raised differently here ... I cannot accept my children living here as this society is morally corrupt. For now, though, I’m busy with procedures to bring my family here. I want them to come here and stay safe until the situation in Syria is peaceful enough for us to go back.
Samer, 26, a student from Damascus now living in Germany
I left Syria because of the security situation and, like all men, I was under threat of being arrested at a checkpoint, or getting kidnapped and disappearing. My family was scared that something would happen to me. Also, I had already planned to continue my education in Europe.
In the beginning I was looking forward to studying in Europe. Now I still have the same determination and I’m eagerly working on my PhD. Seeking asylum was not my goal, but I found that it’s the best way to continue my education as a Syrian. The routine of life here is boring. German people are very nice and they sympathize with the Syrian situation, but they’re still different from us. I’m a Middle Eastern man and I have certain customs and traditions that I don’t wish to change. I never cared about acquiring a foreign nationality, because I am a patriotic Syrian. Now I’m learning German, then I will continue my education, hoping to go back to my country as soon as possible.
Leen, 30, a translator from Damascus who now lives in Sweden
Ever since I was a little kid I’d always dreamed about traveling to Europe. The difference between our world and their world was very obvious to me. When our relatives who lived in Europe visited us I would admire their books, their toys and even their attitude. When I grew up my motivation to go was even greater as I understood the depth of why they’re different. Circumstances weren't in my favor, though, and I was unable to take such a radical decision. However, things began to deteriorate after the beginning of the revolution; I reached a point where my financial situation was getting worse, and my husband, who was an activist against the regime, had to leave Syria for security reasons. So I took the decision to find a new homeland where I can have a peaceful, dignified life with my husband and my two children.
Here in Sweden there are completely different standards: there is honesty, decency, individuality and above all humanity. These and many other concepts have made the community here very healthy. The thing that matters to me the most is that now I no longer have to worry about my kids’ future, their education, their health; everything they need will be taken care of. And the day when they become Swedes, they will have the choice to be whoever they wish to be.