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Amina's Story: A Refugee from the Syrian Civil War

What caught my attention was her face with the classic lines full of the past burdens and memory pains, a woman in her forties with a slender face and agonies of a thousand years.

My first encounter with Amina during the English class has triggered my curiosity to know her story, and although I met a lot of persons and heard a lot of stories of refugees’ tragedies, Amina and her story were the most important to me.

Amina was a lady who volunteered at the camp and contributed in spreading happiness among the refugees. We always talked and I had a few questions that needed answers on how she came and the reasons why she had to take the risk to cross the sea and apply for asylum. I was hesitant in the beginning, but eventually I suggested to listen to her story as if we had interviews, she was pleased and perhaps she felt that someone was there to listen to her agonies and we had this interview:

Amina, when did you arrive to Greece?

On the 20th of March 2016

After how many attempts?

Four! Three failed attempts and the last try was a success.

In the first attempt we were caught at the point we were supposed to take the boat. We were detained for 24 hours and we face the usual bureaucracy in Turkey and our problem as refugees were turned into another problem and we had to run again and look for a new way to reach Europe through rubber boats and smugglers.

What about the second attempt?

The second attempt failed before it started. We were arrested while we were taking a bus on our way to the point and we faced the same bureaucracy as in the first time, same procedures and same routine.

And the third attempt?

We reached further than the second time but we faced a problem of another kind, the weather was very bad. Although we reached the point to take the rubber boat, rain poured that day and the sea waves were dangerously high, it wasn’t an attempt to cross the sea but a suicide attempt. We postponed our attempt for another time and each one of us paid around 150 dollars to get back to where we were. We forgot about crossing the sea temporarily.

What about the last attempt, the fourth?

I didn’t have the same courage and enthusiasm but I took the risk again carrying the old hopes and future dreams accompanied with my husband’s encouraging, to reach a safe haven and have a better life with my husband.

The fourth attempt was a success, but you can’t always win everything, I crossed the sea but my husband lost his life.

Sorry for your loss! How did it happen?

Amina started to describe death to me while she was sobbing.

The moment we arrived on the Greek shores and after we were exhausted trying to absorb what happened and forget the fear that accompanied us during our journey, I started to sigh out of relief, we finally reached Greece, the moment that I always waited for to hug my husband and to tell him how lucky we are. All I had in my mind was crushed on a rock of a different, painful, and black reality. During our journey, my husband, who was always on a wheelchair, was sitting that day on the other side of the boat due to the confusion and screams when everyone wanted to get on the boat. I was shocked when everyone left the boat, instead of seeing my husband smiling to me I found him dead. My husband died due to suffocation in the crowd and due to the sea water he swallowed during the journey.

I wasn’t able to realize the horror in the beginning, the horror that all our dreams in living together in peace have vanished this way.

My husband died because of the crowdedness and stampede on the boat and there was no one to help him or to hold his hand. It was indeed his last journey.

And here I am alone, without family or a friend. I buried my husband in a graveyard in Mytilini instead of continuing our journey together to achieve his dreams.

How was your situation dealt with after the incident?

After I lost my husband I was busy with the burial and the procedures and I was late to register myself with the Greek authorities, and because of that I was registered after the 20th of march which caused me a lot of trouble and bureaucracy. As you know about the EU-Turkey deal, the future has become obscure and I don’t know where to go or who to talk to concerning my case. Bureaucracy here is another kind of torment and I couldn’t solve my case with any of the legal authorities or establishments here and I was not able to find anybody to help me with my asylum application. I live now in Karatepe refugee camp and I don’t know anything about my future. All I have is patience and waiting to try to have my voice heard.

Why didn’t you stay in Turkey and look for a future there?

Human conditions to us as refugees were zero. Not to mention that finding a job was impossible even that my husband was an English literature graduate and any physically involved job was impossible for him as he was in a wheelchair. We could never obtain work permits in Turkey and there was no kind of institutions to help us begin our life in Turkey. Integration issues was a big problem for us and the people there expect you to speak Turkish the first day you are there. As you experienced in Turkey, your condition as a refugee doesn’t matter and nobody will respect you unless you have money, if you have money in Turkey everyone will respect you and if you have no money you are no one there.
I used to work as a nurse back in Syria, even though, I couldn’t find any suitable job to have the minimum life.

Life in Turkey was a hell. Homelessness, poorness, disrespect, and above all the racist attitude towards us. We were just rich material for their media to tell the world how humane they are, fake humanity. There is no law to protect us even with the “temporary protection” regime that could be cancelled any time by the Turkish government. My husband couldn’t even have the medical care. Turkey was never the safe refuge. Although there’s no war or killings in Turkey, there are tragedies of another kind, we were stateless and homeless with no power of any kind. We were misused and we lost all our money. That’s why we had to take the risk to cross the sea and look for a better life we deserve to lead.

Despite the war in Syria, what were your reasons to flee?

War problems are endless, anytime and anywhere, but I will mention some to you. The first problem was when our house was bombarded in Aleppo and we became homeless and displaced exactly like many displaced Syrians in Syria. Another problem was when I lost my job as a nurse because of the continuous clashes and the difficulty to move. There was no possibility to go to my job and I had to give it up and stay by my husband’s side to take care of him. My husband stayed home after he was discharged from his job due to the inability to go every day and due to his health condition.

Things were more difficult after we lost our house. Our daily routine was to find a shelter and find a way of a living after we lost our jobs, we became very poor and our priority was to find food, we gave up on our ambitions and dreams and finding food and shelter was our obsession.

We couldn’t ignore the fact that as killing spread in Syria and the probability to die out of a sniper’s bullet or a shelling was very high. Our lives changed forever and there was no chance to stay in Syria and we realized we had to leave. Travelling through the official borders was impossible, so we had to cross the borders with Turkey. Turkey was the only and the last haven away from war.

Amina, do you think applying for asylum in Europe is the solution?

Being an asylum seeker isn’t the solution, ending the war is. Fleeing to Europe was Scylla. I explained to you how was life in Turkey, after we were there for seven months trying to live in dignity. We chose to cross the sea and go to Europe to search for a better life. It’s our right as humans to live in dignity, it was the right of my husband to continue his studies after the war turned his dream to the impossible. After all failed in Turkey, Europe was the destination. My husband had an ambition to reach Europe. He was always in contact with his friends who left to Germany and the Netherlands, he listened to their advice about continuing his studies, he was very enthusiastic to accomplish his dream, he wanted knowledge more than anything else, but destiny chose this path for us and death was stronger than us. The sea defeated us and defeated our dreams and deprived us from our human rights.

I stopped asking Amina and my curiosity to know has decreased. I didn’t want to dig deeper in her agonies. After this interview I joined Amina in duties with the humanitarian organizations, and started helping her to distribute tea for the refugees at the camp. Her strength and patience provoked me to be like her in fighting my agonies and to forget the pains of the past behind my back.

Amina rarely stopped smiling. She volunteered to do good and to help the others to forget about their past. She always told me “my husband always liked to help people and this is the best way to accomplish his desire in helping people”.

In moments of weakness she used to go away from people, away when she has a sad moment or when she remembered her husband. She was all by herself crying while looking at her husband’s photos on her phone, the only memory left of him.

She was unlucky even during her life in Syria before the war. We talked and became friends for one month. She always told me how she met her husband at the orphanage and how her family opposed her getting married to a man in a wheelchair, she fought against the tradition for the love of her life. Amina changed my life forever, in one month. She taught me about strength and patience and I always asked myself if we deserve all this sadness and pain in our lives? Did our mistakes accumulate and turned into war? I never knew the answer but all I know there was nothing to do but to console her with words and a smile. I wish to hear a good news about her one day, that she had a better chance in another country with a part of the future she deserves.

Interview by Qassem Al Salamat, translation by Borhan Ahmad. This is an excerpt from a forthcoming coming to be published by the Isocracy Network covering interviews with Syrian refugees, collated by Syrian refugees.