26 years old, Syria

23 May 2023

“I moved to Jordan [from Syria] almost 10 years ago when the war in Syria started. I am from Daraa, a city near Homs which was a frontline and the place where the revolution started. There were a lot of airstrikes and a lot of kidnappings. Women were kidnapped all the time. Back then I was 15. Until 2020 we could not go out of the house at all. It was very risky. The only place I felt safe was in the house. There were snipers everywhere, aerial bombardments of missiles and barrel bombs. After 2020, the government took full control of the city, so things got a bit calmer, but still the city was full of checkpoints. When we tried to pass through the checkpoints, there was always the risk of getting harassed. The few times I tried to go out I always went with my dad. He got very upset as he knew that at the checkpoints they might harass me, and he knew he could not do anything about it as the people at the checkpoints have guns. We know other women were sexually harassed at these checkpoints.

In 2021, there was an offensive between rebel fighters and Syrian government forces. Thankfully it was in the other part of the city, which was under siege and daily bombing. Even though our neighborhood was safer, the other side was sending missiles back as a response to the offensive, so we were terrified.

I wanted to stay in Syria despite the war because I wanted to finish my studies there. But due to the situation in Daraa I could not continue my studies or go out and find a job. I felt so stuck. I needed to find something to do to feel useful again. Then I decided to create an online company with some friends of mine. We created a delivery company that delivers goods both within Syria but also abroad. We established a network with other Syrians, both inside Syria and abroad. I knew this was not my dream job, but I wanted to do something, because this made me feel alive again. I have been through so much in my life that I was drained emotionally. I was already so drained when I lost my cousin that I had no tears left for her. She died because she could not get any [medical] treatment in Syria.

I wanted to stay in Syria despite the war because I wanted to finish my studies there

My whole family were first displaced to Damascus and then we moved to Jordan. My dad moved to Saudi Arabia to work, and we stayed with my mum in Jordan. I went to school there and then I studied pharmacy. Unfortunately, I could not find a good job in Jordan. The problem is that, because I am Syrian and not Jordanian, I could not gain a higher degree in pharmacy that would allow me to open my own pharmacy. So, in August last year I went to Lebanon to see if there was any future for me there. Unfortunately, after six months and after wasting a lot of money in Lebanon, I decided to go to Libya. I wasn’t allowed to go back to Jordan as I had left illegally.

My partner left Syria 11 years ago, just when the war started. He had been in love with me for many years. When I started my studies at the university, he decided to speak with my family so we could be together, and he encouraged me to come to Europe and live with him. He was the one who suggested I go to Libya. 

When I went to Libya, they put me in touch with a woman who was smuggling people to Europe. I paid her 2,800 euros in the hope of crossing the sea safely. She kept me and my friend in her house for two months and she did not let us go out. For two months we were in a room where even the windows were covered. I have not seen sunlight for two months. 

I was prepared to take this risk because my heart was so heavy with what I had experienced in Syria. I am very young, and I do not want to carry the burden of war for the rest of my life. I do not deserve that. I said to myself: ‘Be patient and be strong’ and left Syria. 

When I paid all this money, I thought we would go to Europe in a safe boat. The smuggler promised us that we would go in a yacht or something similar. When we arrived at the boat, we were shocked. It was an old wooden boat. 

We spent almost two days at sea before we were rescued. One of the greatest but also scariest moments of the journey was when we came across two fishermen. They approached us and they gave us some food and water. They are the ones who called from their radios for help. Then they waited on both sides of our vessel and, when the weather deteriorated, they tried to protect us from the waves by positioning their boats next to ours. At times, the waves reached two meters high. We were all so grateful to them. 

As time passed, I lost any hope I still had. Then the rescuers from MSF came. When they arrived, I was almost unconscious. I was so weak because of the journey that I could barely understand what was happening. I was convinced I was about to die. Thanks be to God, they rescued us. 

I feel bad because the woman who smuggled us asked us to tell other Syrian people intending to travel with us that the journey would be very safe and that they should trust her. In the end we all found ourselves in this terrible boat in the middle of nowhere. I apologised and asked them to forgive me as she had forced me into it.  

Now I want to go and find my husband in Germany and continue my studies. I want to do a masters and then a PhD. This is my dream.”