The European Youth Forum is hosting two Syrian refugees now living in Belgium, as part of a scheme to give refugees a short work experience placement within NGOs as volunteers. Tammam Abdulwahab, as part of his volunteer experience, has been working with YO!Mag to give a voice to other refugees in Belgium. Here, in the first of a short series of articles about the experiences of refugees, he tells his own story.
By Tammam Abdulwahab
As a student who spent 5 years living in a horrible, unstoppable and unprecedented war since WWII, in Aleppo, the divided city that has come to symbolise the ravages of war, I was forced to take a difficult decision , forced with no other option unless I wanted to get deeper into the conflict in my country. My only option was to flee.
My route to Belgium started from the Syrian-Lebanese border to Turkey. By boat, I travelled to Mersin from the port of Tripoli in Lebanon, where I had only 24 hours to leave the country. In Mersin, I stayed for three months before I found a smuggler to take me to Greece. After the first attempt, which had ended up with me in custody for 1 night in Oresias (Greece) before the Greek policemen decided to send me back to Turkey again, I really got depressed and disillusioned with the idea of migrating. But, after lots of encouragement from my parents as well as advice from some friends who had successfully made the journey, I decided to try again.
But in fact, successfully making this journey relies a lot on luck. But luck was not with me the second time either! The Turkish army, or ‘janderma’ as it is known there, took me into custody for six nights in a military base in Havran – Marmara. There, I had nothing to do but think. All the time I was asking myself about the next step. I didn’t actually feel any depression as I had the first time. Indeed, I convinced myself that I had no option but to keep trying until I succeeded.
And I did. Eventually, on the third attempt: we were about 55 men, women, children in an overcrowded plastic boat. Eight hours of fear in the sea until we arrived. In that dark night when we were in the boat, a woman asked me hopefully:
“Where will you be going to if we arrive safely on the island?” I really had no idea what to answer. This question I had neglected to ask myself. Where is my destination?
I repeated this question in my mind all the time when I was crossing Macedonia, Serbia and Hungary.
In Salzburg (Austria), I made up my mind. Many people talked about the open arms’ welcome to refugees in Belgium and so that is where I decided to go. On 13 September 2015, I arrived in Brussels. A year ago today I spent the day waiting for the result of my asylum-seeker application in Poelkapelle | Fedasil. I will not forget how friendly it was, they tried to do the best for us. I had to stay there for two months at least. Then, they moved me to CPAS – Centre Public d’Action Sociale — Site officiel de la Ville d’Ath to wait for the decision about whether I could register as an asylum seeker. Six months later, I received a letter that said I would be staying in a social housing. It was the positive decision from the Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless
At that moment, I forgot all the hard times, loneliness and weariness I had felt on my way to Belgium.
Three months ago, I moved to a small apartment in Antwerp. It is a good city enough to start a new life and integrate into a new society. I read an article about a program for refugees that VUB (Vrije Universiteit Brussel) has launched in order to help refugees and actively support their integration and encourage those who have ambition. I applied for a Master in Linguistics in English Language, which I will start shortly.
My life here is like a train track. It is not possible to pass a station before another. It goes smoothly, step by step, closer to achieving the ambitious goal I seek: to be an active person in a society that welcomed me in my hardest time to live in safety as a human being.