“I want to apologize for being here, because you didn’t invite me and I am walking through your streets.”
“I got off the train in Enschede and looked for a police officer to make myself known as a refugee. But there was no police anywhere. I walked from street to street until I finally found one. That was so different than in Syria, there we have police everywhere. The people on the street here walk so relaxed. They are not afraid. And they’re so nice! In Syria everyone walks really fast and is constantly looking around. I asked the officer to arrest met, but he said: ‘No, we don’t do that.’ They gave me a ticket for the train and a directions to get to Ter Apel. I was dirty and my clothes were covered in mud from the journey. I was given new clothes and a shower. Everyone was really friendly.
I used to be a supervisor for building projects in Syria. I have a degree as a civil engineer, the same job as my father. My parents, brother and sister live in a city that is surrounded by ISIS. So many groups came to Syria to fight, it’s unbelievable. In Syria you don’t think: ‘Do I go or do I stay.’ You think: ‘How do I get out, how do I get money, how do I get contacts. I worry about my parents, but my father wants to stay in our house. He’s 62 years old.
I had a protected childhood as the oldest son. My mother was always afraid that something would happen to me. I was shy and had difficulty to make new friends. At home I played a lot of chess and Monopoly with my mother. Damascus was the most expensive city. If you had hotels on the most expensive street, Al Hamra, you’d win. Aleppo was the second most expensive city. And yes, the game even had a prison! Later in my live I went a little bit wild: I worked, I drank a lot and I slept. I saw no future in Syria, it’s an authoritarian and corrupt country. During the Arab spring I got hopeful and started to be politically active. But that became dangerous really fast. I decided to go to Turkey. I lived for eight months in Istanbul. Sometimes I had work, but the Turks only pay us half of a normal wage. You feel like you’re treated as a slave.
On October 7 I stood with 30 others at the coastline, ready to make the trip over to Greece. The boat was small and made from plastic. It was five o’clock in the morning, the sun just started to rise. Rough jokes were being made, everyone knew it was going to be a dangerous journey. I closed myself off and listened to music on my phone. The motor died on the sea and the waves caused the boat to make water. In the end everyone went overboard. I could swim, but there were many children and women, you become paralyzed. It’s a miracle we got one of the engines working again. That’s how we reached Greece.
I want to apologize for being here, because you did not invite me and I am walking through your streets. Until now Groningen has only brought me good things. In the refugee centre I met my friend from back in elementary school. I lost track of him back then and now all of the sudden were reunited. That moment is indescribable! This morning I was able to contact my parents for a bit through WhatsApp. My mother asked me what I had eaten. Do I really have to take a picture? With my beard I look like a member of ISIS.”
Mohamad Al-Mansour (31) from Damascus, Syria