‘For days I slept on dead people’

I interviewed a 28-year-old lawyer who escaped Syria

Brexit, or in Trump language the attempt to ‘Make Britain great again,’ shook the world quite deeply in the past week. Experts indicate that the fear of immigrants pouring into Europe and the notion that these people could potentially be terrorists played a major role in the British electorate’s decision.

With immigration at the top of the world agenda right now, can we really convince ourselves we’ve fulfilled our duty to understand the danger that forces harmed populations to seek refuge in countries with stable political spheres? 

Last summer I travelled to southeastern Turkey to interview Syrian refugees for my thesis and write about their relationship to the Turkish state. I never had a chance to use the most striking interview I had, which was with a 28 year-old Abdulhakeem who ran a grocery store.

My interview with him was quite unique because he didn’t allow me to ask questions; he preferred to tell his story without interruption. His story stands as a perfect explanation of the ‘why.’ Why these people escape. Why there are so many of them. Why Europe, and why not Arab countries.

One of the Syrian residences in Sanliurfa, Turkey

One of the Syrian residences in Sanliurfa, Turkey

“In the religion of Islam, we believe in the afterlife. We are all going to die and eventually go to Heaven or Hell. God showed Syrians the Hell on Earth. We pray that He will show them the Heaven soon. We hope that they can go back to their country. But right now, an ISIS trying to take their heads or a regime that tortures them for trying to escape is their reality. 

“Our Arab friends, especially the Arab states in the Persian Gulf, shut their doors on us. The government of Turkey did the opposite and welcomed us. Though few in number, there have been Turks that have mistreated us, too. But I guess that has to do with the excessive number of Syrians here. A new way of trade came up. Because Syrians are trying to escape, some traffickers bring them in illegally. Most Syrians sell their properties or any sort of possessions to pay these men and try to go to Europe. If they safely reach there, they work and send some money to help their relatives in Turkey. Those Syrians who studied medicine, literature, and law were either killed or forced into migration. Eventually, Syria lost its culture.

“I am actually a lawyer and I myself was captured by the regime and put to jail. Let me tell you this. 80 percent of the Syrian people who are kept in the dungeons by the regime are educated university graduates. When the regime got me, they put 100 of us in a small chamber. For days I slept on dead people. They declared the majority of us terrorists and tortured us (he shows me his scars). They kept us 11 people hung on the ceiling of the dungeon three days long. They thought they tortured us, but they only made us even more determined. What’s funny is we are declared terrorists by the Assad regime, and a hypocrites by ISIS, where the punishment is beheading.

A Kurdish Syrian woman with her grandchild.

A Kurdish Syrian woman with her grandchild.

“You are probably living happily with your family, but 95 percent of Syrians are away from their families. They lost their families. There is not a single Syrian family who hasn’t lost one member in the past five years. Sadly, the young generation in Syria has never seen mercy.

“Two of my brothers lost their lives as a result of the war. I learnt that one of my brothers died four months before I was finally out of the dungeon. He was studying political science. When the Syrian soldiers backed by the Iranian government entered the city of Deir ez-Zor, my brother knew that they would rape our women, so he got himself a weapon to fight. He had never held a weapon before.

“After he died we found a letter where he had a note for me. He said ‘If we don’t get to see each other again in this life. Hopefully, we will in the next.’

“The reason why I escaped Syria is I remembered my brothers whenever I came home. I remembered my dad whenever I went out to take a walk in some neighborhood. I came here because I hated that. I’m here for two months now. Now I hate here, too.”