Azzam’s younger brother transited Greece when fleeing Syria. The Belgian authorities examined his application and granted him asylum. Azzam’s older brother arrived in Belgium after traveling through Italy. They still don’t know if they will be allowed to stay together or if he will be returned to Italy under the ‘Dublin system’.
“My older brother has just arrived in Belgium but we still don’t know if he will be allowed to stay”
Azzam always seems to remain optimistic. What a source of strength that is for himself and those who surround him. Some days ago, he told us ‘I have great news, my brother is on a boat on his way to Europe’. He was very much hoping that his brother who fled the violence in Syria after him would be able to make it to Belgium. And he did. Azzam is now focusing all his efforts on getting help for his brother to try to persuade the Belgian authorities to allow him to stay here with his two siblings instead of returning him to Italy, the first European country he entered.
Azzam was only 21 when he left his family and friends, his jobs as a salesman and web designer and his studies on banking and insurance at the university in Syria more than two years ago. He told the ECRE Weekly Bulletin about his decision to leave, the difficulties of settling in a new country and his dream of getting his family to a safe place.
What led you to take the decision to flee Syria?
I left Syria in April 2011. I saw the police killing some people during the demonstrations. I made some videos that I uploaded on Youtube and was in touch with France 24, which was one of the first broadcasters reporting on what was happening in Syria. Somebody must have seen me and informed security forces because I was banned from all universities in Syria.
My mother cried a lot when I decided to leave but I had to. I was so afraid for my family. If my family would get killed or hurt because of my activities, I would live the rest of my days in shame.
“My mother cried a lot when I decided I had to leave but I had to. If my family would get killed or hurt because of my activities, I would live the rest of my days in shame”.
Looking back at your whole journey, first in Syria, then in Egypt and now in Belgium, what was the hardest?
The most difficult thing was to begin a new life, in a new country, with a new culture and a new language.
Belgians feel sorry for Syrians. Almost every month there is a conference about what is happening in Syria and what will happen in the future. All leaders come to Brussels to talk about Syria but in the beginning, the Belgian authorities were not taking decisions on Syrian asylum seekers because they said the situation in Syria was not clear to them despite the fact that there were already videos and everyone knew what was going on in the country.
I waited for a decision on my asylum case for nine months. I knew about friends and other Syrians who went to Sweden, France or Germany and got papers, and I was still waiting. It was a really bad feeling. If you see someone being killed, that makes it very clear. That is why I decided to escape.
In Belgium, they put me in a room with other eight people. I had my money, my mobile phone and my laptop. I felt it was not safe to be there and I left the centre after six hours. Nobody told me that if I left the centre, I would not get any further help from the State. Now I know it was a mistake but I had never been a refugee, how could I know how things work? They should write things in every language to make sure everyone understands what their rights are here and what they are entitled to do.
How was it to look for a job in Belgium?
Six months after applying for asylum, you can start to work. But it is really hard to get a job if you do not have a residence permit. My temporary residence permit had to be renewed every three months, so it was hard to find an employer that would not have a problem with that. Also, I did not have any language skills. Now, I can speak Dutch and I have been working full time for an IT company for a few months.
“My brother was pushed out of the reception centre to find himself in the streets of Italy”
Where is your family?
My younger brother, who is 20 years old, arrived in Belgium one year ago. He first went to Turkey and then travelled to Greece. Being smuggled from Turkey to Greece was really dangerous but he decided he had to do anything to run away because he had been arrested three times in Syria. Being arrested three times in Syria is just too much for a 18-year old boy. In Greece he was also detained, for three months. He was mistreated in detention and he was released on the condition that his fingerprints would be taken and he should apply for asylum in Greece. However, he was smuggled to Belgium where he applied for asylum and since countries are not returning people to Greece he could stay here in Belgium.
My older brother has just arrived in Belgium too but we still don’t know if he will be allowed to stay. He will have his ‘Dublin interview’ next year.
When he fled Syria, he went to work in Libya where he was born but his family could not settle there. His wife is Palestinian Syrian and had to enter Libya irregularly. She was pregnant with their second child and they learned that the Libyan authorities would not register the baby they were expecting. If he was born in Libya, this child would live without papers so they moved to Egypt where the baby was born.
The new regime in Egypt wants to deport all Syrians from Egypt. Many Syrians have been killed in Egypt. Last week, a Syrian was killed by a taxi driver because he could not pay the whole fare; he was around one pound short. The souls of Syrians are becoming very cheap.
After few months in Egypt, my brother decided to get the boat to Italy. Eight days without food and water. My brother told me he saw death with his own eyes. He didn’t want to leave his young children behind. This war forced him to do it.
“We work here and Belgium is our second country, we are focusing on our future and how to reunite the family again”
The Italians were not very welcoming. The officers used electric rods against the migrants who refused to be fingerprinted. My brother was pushed out of the reception centre to find himself on the streets in Italy.
Italy doesn’t respect the human rights of refugees. People cannot imagine how refugees are treated there. If Belgium has a sense of humanity, there is no reason for them to send my brother back to Italy. I have lived in Belgium for more than two years and my younger brother for a year. We work here and Belgium is our second country, we are focusing on our future and how to reunite the family again
My parents and my 15 year-old sister are still in Egypt. I talk to them every day. The situation is very bad for them there. Many Syrians in Egypt are sleeping in the street or sent to closed centres. I have seen a lot of photos; they are dirty and closed places. Sometimes they are sent back to Syria I also heard that there Egyptian security forces killed two Syrians trying to go from Egypt to Italy.
“Many Syrians in Egypt are sleeping in the street or sent to closed centres”
We are trying to get them here to Belgium but it is difficult to do it through family reunification because they are not dependant on us. The most certain way to come to Europe is to go to Italy but it is very dangerous, I do not want to see my family dead because of me. We haven’t been able to find any safe boat yet. My family doesn’t know what to do. They are waiting for me and my younger brother to be able to invite them to join us in Belgium through an official way.
“We haven’t been able to find any safe boat yet for my parents and my sister who are in Egypt. They are waiting for me and my younger brother to be able to invite them to join us in Belgium through an official way”