Mostafa (27)
Student 'Economics and Business Administration' / Project Manager of Living Aleppo

"I have always been a refugee. My parents originated from Palestine (Nazareth) and fled to Syria before my birth. In Syria, we lived for years in various refugee camps. I was born in a camp. I have eight brothers and sisters. President Bashar al-Assad put all Palestinians into camps. He wanted to keep the Palestinians together in one area so that he could keep control over them. Palestinians were often deceived and used in negotiations with neighbouring countries. Therefore, we did not get a "real" passport, but an ID with a "refugee from Palestine" stamp, which did not allow us to go abroad.

After primary school, I went to study in Aleppo. Fortunately, Palestinians could work and study. I first studied a year 'Geography' and then two years 'Economics and Business Administration' at Aleppo University. After two years, I went to Damascus to get my degree there. The university there offered a higher level of education. My study time in Aleppo was a wonderful time. I had a lot of friends and I felt happy. Everyone was equal, there was no distinction made between the various population groups. Aleppo was a progressive and tolerant city. There was room for diversity. Turks, Kurds, Christians, Muslims, Palestinians, Armenians, Jews ... everyone lived in peace with each other.

Of course, Assad was a dictator who caused you to be arrested immediately if you criticized him. The obligation existed to hang his portrait anywhere and everywhere. I worked in a photo shop and soldiers came in there regularly asking why I did not have a portrait of Bashar al-Assad hanging on the wall. As long as you kept to his rules, everything was fine. My student time was the most beautiful period in my life.

Aleppo had a thriving economy. There were many successful companies, people worked hard and everyone wanted to contribute to a healthy society. There really was a positive and constructive atmosphere.

After my studies, I worked with a large chemical company as Human Resources manager. I travelled a lot between Aleppo, Homs and Damascus. The company had staff in these cities and the factory was about in the middle of these cities.

But when the war began in 2011, everything changed. The company went bankrupt. Many companies went bankrupt. The whole society collapsed like a house of cards. There was no national bank anymore, there was no job anymore. Everything could only be arranged behind closed doors. But at the beginning of the war, the atmosphere in the city between the population remained relatively stable.

However, from the moment Assad began to use chemical weapons, a split in society emerged. The wealthier people, those in the center of the city, had until then held themselves on the sidelines of the political discussion. After all, they had nothing to complain about and, as such, did not interfere with the revolution against Assad. The workers (poorer people) who demanded a revolution began to accuse the elite class of laxity and indifference. Finally, it had become a humanitarian situation. From that time on, things began to be grim. Also among themselves. There were people who lost a loved-one and wanted revenge. It became dangerous. You could no longer trust anyone. That is the result of a war, that's what happens if there is a civil war.

But the real problem is and remains Assad. He has created ISIS himself. At that time, he released a number of very dangerous people from prison, hoping that they would settle the rebels. Under the table, the Assad government supported ISIS. Here in Europe, Assad and ISIS are seen as two different parties. Everybody thinks: beat ISIS first and then focus on Assad.

In 2013 everyone knew; Two months to go and Assad is finished. Played out. His army was broken and his power would not last much longer. But then, Iran and Russia came and they supported Assad. With weapons, with soldiers, with everything he needed. Thereby he had power again. He suddenly started arresting people. Anyone who was against him was plucked off the street and thrown into prison.

How is it possible that in these times somebody uses chemical weapons, the world is watching but nobody does anything to help? I do not understand that at all.

Everywhere was misery. It was a difficult time. I wanted to do something for my country. Something positive. I did not want to work as Human Resource manager anymore, but I wanted to do something to help Syria. I could not stand there and do nothing. Then in 2012 I worked as a project leader at MSF in Syria. But after some time it became too dangerous. Assad forbade Syrians to work for an NGO. The international staff at the NGOs left him alone, but all Syrians were arrested. That was the moment I decided to flee. Firstly, I had to pay a lot of money to not be arrested. Then I fled immediately.

No neighbouring country wanted to allow Palestinians onto their territory. I went to Sudan with my parents and went to work for an NGO. From Sudan I went to Lebanon. I once again worked for a refugee organization which helped refugees on the border with Syria. But because I was Palestinian, I could not stay there either. The government of Lebanon wanted to surrender me to Syria. So I then I fled by boat to Turkey. By land was not possible, as you pass through Syria and, as Syrian, I would be arrested immediately. From Turkey, I managed to come to Europe. It was a terribly dangerous boat trip. In particular, the journey from Lebanon to Turkey was life-threatening. There are many soldiers on guard in that area. But I had no choice, I would either end up in the Syrian Prison (which probably had meant my death), or I could risk the crossing. I chose the last one and managed it. Finally I arrived in NL in 2015. My parents, however, still live in Sudan.

As soon as Syria is safe again, I will go back to help with the reconstruction of the country. It was a beautiful country, with much knowledge, culture and a special society. I want to help re-build that beautiful country again. I'm still young and I want to do something to help my country... And somebody has do it anyway..."


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