“The police officer said: ‘Okay, just drive on.’ Seriously! Unbelievable!”
Last week, the two brothers Youssef (18) and Mohamed Nour (22) Alagha decorated the Christmas tree. It stands in the corner at the window in a jar filled with sand and wrapped in a plastic Aldi bag. Christmas baubles and coloured lights. “We are actually Muslims, but in Damascus we would sometimes see a Christmas tree at Christian people’s homes. We really wanted to have one ourselves for once.””
Since August 10, 2016 they have been living in a small apartment on the second floor in Lewenborg. “Because we are still so young we did not qualify for a bigger house,” says Youssef. There is one bedroom (“sorry for the mess, we are boys, right?”) with a double bed. The bed is for the eldest, Mohamed. Youssef sleeps on the couch in the living room. After that August the 10th, they worked hard in the apartment, where an elderly man lived previously. When he died, it was theirs. “We had to do a lot of painting. The walls were black, white and yellow – it looked like a nightclub!” They were able to acquire many of the things which had belonged to the old man. The fridge, the oven and the washing machine are new: “We’ll be using them for over ten years, so they need to work properly and be safe.”
Youssef and Mohamed are lucky to have met a Dutch family last year at a ‘get to know each other dinner’ at the Van Swietenlaan refugee centre. “We still see them and they helped us out with everything. With Sinterklaas we were there too, and we had a nice meal together.” Other than that, they have little contact with other people. Who are their neighbours? “We say hi to each other, but we don’t really talk.” Are the neighbours all Dutch? “We think so because they look pretty Dutch.” On the first floor of the building there is a meeting room for the residents of the roughly forty apartments. But the brothers do not go there for a cup of coffee or a chat: “We don’t want to intrude.” But at the end of the year there is a big dinner for everyone, and they will definitely join in. They also don’t have much contact with the other Syrians from the refugee centre. You don’t just pop by someone’s place – maybe they are busy, or maybe it’s inconvenient.”
Three days a week, Mohamed attends a local school, the Alfa College, to learn Dutch. But Youssef is at home. When he turned 18, the International transition class that he had been attending for six months stopped. Now he is looking for a good language school. Why not go out and do some sports in the meantime? Brother Mohamed: “Just admit you’re too lazy for that!”
This week there was good news for Mohamed: his wife Sally can get a visa at the Dutch Embassy in Beirut any day now. She’ll be coming over early next year. He shows a picture of them together: beautiful young people in happier times in Damascus. Youssef and Mohamed are still waiting to hear whether their father, mother and sister can also come over under the family reunification scheme. Youssef was 17 when he applied for the reunification, and according to the rules it’s allowed. But it is taking a long time. Patiently: “We have to wait.”
And finally, a nice story about the Dutch police. A while ago, Mohamed bought a second-hand scooter in town. The seller did not say anything about needing a driver’s license. Before long Mohamed was stopped by the police. “I just told them honestly that I did not know that you needed a driver’s license. And seriously – it’s incredible – the officer said, ‘Okay, just drive on. But next time you’ll be fined 250 euros.’ In Syria, that would never happen!” After discussing it with Youssef, Mohamed decided to sell the scooter again. Because a driver’s license costs quite a lot and the fine is also pretty steep. They sold the scooter on the internet. “I had it for three days.”
At home with Yousef (18) and Mohamed Nour (21) Alagha.