I am Anas. I am here today, to tell you a story. The 7-months-story of my journey from Syria to Passau.
I want to tell you something about Syria first. Syrian people are peaceful. We don’t want to fight; we don’t like violence. We believe in peace and there is nothing more that we long for. Syria is a Republic, not a Monarchy. We used to be living in a Democracy until Hafiz Al-Assad, in 1971, took over the regime of the Syrian Arab Republic by a military coup. Since then we have only one legal party: Baath-Party. Al-Assad made it very clear: He was the dictator. And whoever was against him, would be killed. Either you are a member of Baath-Party, or otherwise you have no rights at all.
There are no rights in Syria. We have nothing. You need his (Al-Assad’s) permission for everything. If you want to get married: Get his permission. If you want to go to university: Get his permission. There is nothing you can do without permission.
He died on 10th June 2000. There was hope in our hearts. He is gone now, we thought. We are getting back our Syria! His son, Bashar Al-Assad could not take over the regime, because the minimum age to be president was 40. He was only 39. But somehow – it was a matter of minutes – there was a new law. Which lowered the minimum age for being president to 39.
In March 2011, one incident, which was more minting then any other, made the Syrians wake up and take real action against him. We started a revolution. Do you know how the revolution started? There were five kids – really, kids. 5- and 6-year-olds – that sprayed “freedom” on a wall in Daraa city. Immediately, these kids were gone. Just gone. Taken away by the police. People started to ask the officers to free the kids, to bring them back to their parents. But do you know, what the officers said? They said: “Give us your wives and we will give you your kids.” This is one of the most insulting things you can say.
A week later, they released the kids. And when they came back, they had no fingernails, had bruises everywhere, cigarette-burns all over their breasts and stomachs. And on top of this they have been raped. Can you believe that? They raped these small kids for spraying “freedom” on the wall. Can you imagine? They didn’t know what they were doing. They were kids.
After this day, about 50-100 Syrians went to the centre of Damaskus and called for freedom. Just in a second, and they were gone. Vanished. Until now, we don’t know, what happened to them. The regime put up a slogan after this incident, which, translated, means: “Al-Assad – or we will burn Syria”. They don’t hide what they do, you know? They declared in the first moment, after they took over the regime, that they are in war with the Syrian population. With Syria.
One day later, around 500 Syrians gathered on the central square. And only a moment later all those 500 people were gone.
The next day, there were about 5000 people on the street. Everyday there were more people and the police couldn’t just take them away anymore. They were too many.
The revolution is the greatest thing in my life! I really had hope – and all the other Syrians around me, we all were full of hope – that Syria will finally not be his Syria anymore, but that it will be our Syria again. If I think of these days now, it feels like a dream. A really nice dream.
People were not frightened. One day, when I was in the streets – there were hundreds of thousands in the streets. Millions. I will never forget this day. I saw 3 Mercedes-Benz stopping right in front of the demonstrators. They were all peacefully calling for rights. Nobody of them aimed at hurting somebody. Syrian people believe in peace. We don’t believe in violence. Men got out of the cars. They were from the Airforce Intelligence Service. They pulled out their Kalashnikovs and started to shoot. And I couldn’t believe it. They were shooting right in the mass of people and row after row they fell. It was the first time I saw someone dying. There was blood everywhere. Everything was full of blood. It was horrible. But the people didn’t run away. They kept going towards the men, as if every single bit of fear inside their bodies was gone. They stepped forward and forward, right into death and they weren’t afraid.
I have to admit: I was afraid. I was really afraid and I left the place.
Today the fight in Syria is not only a fight against the regime anymore. We are fighting for our Syria against ISIS, Russia, Iran, Iraq now. Syria became the battlefield of many different conflicts.
Maybe you remember, what happened in spring 2013. Do you know what happened? Bashar Al-Assad used chemical weapons against the civilian. These weapons are prohibited since the World War II, but he used those against us. He killed far more than 500 people. In only one hour. Can you believe that? More than 500 in one hour? I lost 10 friends that day. Most of them were women and kids. We needed help, but there was nobody to help us. The “great powers” USA or Europe didn’t help us. They were just discussing, whether it was a chemical attack or not. I can tell you that it was. I was there.
In Syria I was a student. I graduated in English Literature. I wanted to be a teacher for kids, so I started my first year of the study programme and after this I applied for the second year. Remember: you need his permission for everything. So, I went to the office to get the permission for attending the second year of my studies.
“Why are you not fighting?”, the man at the counter asked me.
“I am a student. I have a claim to study two years and I only completed the first”, I replied.
“Well, we want you in the army now”, he said and stamped my application form with a big “No”.
I didn’t know what to do. I never wanted to leave Syria, never wanted to leave my revolution. Syria is everything to me; I love my country. Still, I only had the choice between fighting against my own people and leaving. I decided for leaving.
I stuffed a backpack (it was really small) with two trousers, two shirts and my university certificate. With a kiss on my mother’s cheek, I left. I left my mother; I left my girlfriend, my sister, my niece. I left everything. I have nothing anymore. But the worst was that I had to leave my revolution.
I went to Lebanon. I had some relatives there, who helped me and let me stay with them for about two weeks. Again I didn’t know what to do, what I was doing. I didn’t know where to go and I was thinking of going back, even if it was so dangerous.
I had some contacts in Turkey though and I decided to go there. With the little money I had, I could live a few days, but then I didn’t have anything anymore. For weeks I tried to find a job, but it is hard to find something without speaking Turkish. English is not so well-known there. So after that I didn’t see any chance in Turkey, the only thing I could do, was to go to Europe. I thought of applying to university in Europe, but the process lasts long and I wouldn’t have had an answer before 7 – 8 months. Until then, my money wouldn’t have been enough. So, this is why I decided to go the illegal way.
I called my family and friends to send me some money and finally it was enough to pay this man. We went by car for a long time. There, where we were going, would be a boat waiting for us, taking us in only one hour to Greece.
We got out of the car. There was a boat. I couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Is it … Schlauchboot in German? Rubber boat. It was maybe 4 meters long and was supposed to bring us safely to Greece? For no price I wanted to enter this boat. I offered him all my money; I didn’t care about the money anymore. He didn’t accept money, just forced me into the boat.
The capacity of this boat was maybe – maximum – 20 persons. We, after all, were 49. 49! The sea was wavy, far too wavy for this small boat. The only thing I could think about the whole time was to hold on to the boat to keep inside the boat and to not fall into the water. But this shouldn’t stay my biggest worry. I didn’t have to fall into the water. The water made its own way to us. The first waves swapped over the edging. A man – he was a big, strong man – started to cry like a baby. The women were crying. The children. There faces were so pale. It was egoistic, but the only thing I wanted was that he would stop crying. It made myself panic and realize the danger. More and more water swapped inside.
But we were lucky. A boat came to help us. And then, we were brought back to Turkey. We were kept in custody for about two days, where they took our fingerprints. Then, I went back to my friend in Turkey.
I didn’t give up. This time the boat was an old fisher boat. We were one hundred people on this boat, hoping to get safely to Greece. “It will only take one hour”, they said. I tell you, you don’t want to know what it felt like being on this boat. I was frightened, hungry, thirsty; it was hot during the day and bitter cold during the night. It was hell. At this time, I really thought death would be most merciful.
17 hours later we arrived at a deserted island. Nobody was there to help us. We were walking hours and hours. We still had no food and no water. Some started to faint, because of they had no energy left, but we had to keep on walking. The nights, we slept in the woods. The hunger was growing with every second. It became so bad, that some of us started to hear sheep bleating. It was funny and sad at the same time. We were so hungry, that people actually heard sheep. But there were no sheep. We stayed there about two days until inhabitants of the island found us. We were brought to another island where we could stay in a camp for a few days, until we were taken to Athens.
After all, I was in Athens. I was in a city, where dreams could become reality, though didn’t I feel a thing of those dreams. I asked myself what for I did this trip. And again: I thought of going back to Syria. But then I talked to a friend, who was almost in Athens and he told me to wait. Meeting him was one of the first lucky days in weeks. It was the first time since I left home, that I wasn’t alone, that I met someone I knew from home and who was my friend for many years already.
We decided to go to Germany. By foot. Yes, you are laughing and it actually does sound funny. But, really, it wasn’t funny at all. You have to know that winter was coming at that time and it was getting very cold. In the beginning it was still ok. Bearable. We started walking towards Macedonia, following the tracks of the railway, because we thought it’d be the shortest way. Well, it was. But I have to tell you: don’t try that. After four days, we had to throw our shoes away. The gravel ripped the soles of our shoes and we couldn’t use them anymore. So, really, do not ever try to walk on gravel. You can bare it for a bit, but not for a long walk. Since Athens we were always a group of about 5 people. Some went back, some others joined us on our way.
We walked for days. With almost no food and water. We had some sweets, just to give us energy. The rest of the time we ate leaves of trees and ate snow for water.
Finally, we came to Serbia. We kept on heading north. Our luck didn’t last very long. We were lucky for maybe four hours, until the border police brought us back. Back to Macedonia.
But we were full of energy! We started walking again and crossed the border to Serbia once more. This time fate didn’t catch us four days to find us – and to send us back to Macedonia.
But anyway: What could we lose? So we tried again, we crossed the border, our feet were hurting, and we couldn’t walk anymore. We are also just human beings. We are no energy-monsters. Every single step was a torture, a fight with myself.
The nights we slept outside. For a few nights we slept in an abandoned building in the jungle. There were no doors or windows. It was better than nothing, but it was -24°C outside. We were freezing.
I will never forget this one night, when one of us was almost falling asleep. He mustn’t sleep. If he fell asleep, he would never wake up anymore. I have to keep him awake, I thought. I started talking to him, trying to keep him telling me something, but he was so tired. He just wanted to sleep. I felt, it was my duty to keep him alive, to care about our whole group. I started to fight him. I made him angry and I let him kick me and beat me. But I was satisfied then. He was moving his body. I didn’t care about anything else.
On our way, we found a driver, who accepted some of our money and agreed to take us to Belgrade. In Belgrade we would be safe, he said. Getting into the car, I was relieved. An end of the journey was almost reachable. My happiness lasted about 5 minutes, until the driver stopped, jumped out of the car and ran. He could run some 10 meters until the police got him. Seconds later, they got us, too.
The police took us to the station. Shortly after that, we were summoned to court. What had we done to be summoned to court? I couldn’t understand it, but when I head the sentence, I was happy. They would send us to a camp, where we would be cared for and afterwards we might be sent to Belgrade. Belgrade! We might finally reach Belgrade, I thought. Inside myself, hope was growing again. Would it really be this easy after all?
We were brought to the “Camp” by car. In the entrance the officers started checking our bodies in a very ungentle way. At latest, when I asked a simple question and was beaten for asking something, I noticed, that I wasn’t in a camp after all, but unmistakably in a Serbian jail. Walking into the building, there were hundreds of inmates staring at us. They were all criminals. Being in jail for murder, bodily harm or fraud. And me? What was I sent to jail for? I don’t know. I was just there.
One good thing in all this, I thought, was, that I could take a shower. You have to know that I haven’t had a shower at that time for more than a month. I asked the officer to take a shower. His response was simple: “Who do you think you are? Don’t you ever ask me again.” I will spare you the details about the way they treated us. You should know only this much: They enjoyed provoking us and letting us feel like animals every single chance they got. And by time you get used to many things, even to being beaten.
While I was in jail, the year 2014 came to an end. 2015 started and I had no possibility to tell my family where I was, if I was alright. They didn’t even know, if I was still alive.
But my time in jail didn’t last forever. After some time, I was released and brought to some place by car. I don’t remember how long the ride was, I didn’t know where we were going. Maybe we were finally going to Belgrade, I thought. Maybe. But when the car stopped, I realized, where they brought me.
I was back in Macedonia. The moment I realized this, was one of the most disappointing in my whole life.
There was nothing that could stop me from trying again. What else could I do? Where else did I have to go? This time, we asked a man at a bus stop to buy us some tickets for a bus to Belgrade. I got into the minibus with some others. When we reached the border, sweat was running down my forehead. How should the border police not notice, that I was entering the county illegally? I started to panic. The border police entered the bus and slowly walked through the middle way. He turned around, watched us carefully – and just got out again. I couldn’t help start laughing. Was it only this? Really? I mean, I was in the country by bus now? Could it really be that easy?
Hours later, we arrived in Belgrade. I couldn’t believe it. After all, I reached a place, from where I could “easily” find a way to Germany. I met my friend in Belgrade again and then, everything went really fast. Compared to the rest of my journey, there were no big complications anymore. We found someone, who took us with his car that brought us to Vienna. From Vienna I went on to Germany. The driver dropped me out in a city, of which I didn’t know the name. Only after a while, I found out, that it was Deggendorf. After this, I stayed some time in Harbach and now, I live in Passau.
And here I am now, since about six months. It is really crazy: Thinking back of it, it feels like a bad dream, but still it feels so present, as if it happened yesterday.
I attend an integration course here and try to learn some Deutsch. I don’t know what I will do. I want to go back to Syria, but I know, that if I went back, they would arrest me at the border and bring me to jail. And then, I’d probably be killed. For the next three years I can stay here, but I miss my family. Every day. Here, I don’t plan for the future. I only live for tomorrow and then the day after tomorrow and then for the next day again. My dreams, they stayed in Syria – together with my real me.
In this context: A link to a BBC News report about refugees in Passau. http://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-33208007