A Syrian refugee’s message to the European Union

Published: April 1, 2016

Laila and her sons at the Idomeni refugee camp in Greece on Wednesday. Credit Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Times

When we first got here we had money to buy a little food. Now it’s gone. We stand in line for hours for a sandwich. My husband told a journalist recently,

“People are fed up. Maybe tomorrow they will break down the gate and flood across the border.”

The journalist said,

“How many weapons do you have?”

If we knew how to carry weapons or wanted to carry weapons we would not have fled Syria. We want peace. We are sick of killing.

We fled a war, and now the European Union is making war against us, a psychological war. When we hear rumours that we’ll be let into Europe, we celebrate. These leaders give us new hope, then they extinguish it.

Why did you open the door to refugees?

Why did you welcome people?

If they had stopped it before, we would not have come. We would not have risked death, me and my children, and thousands of others, to make the crossing.

I’m 39 and Kurdish, from the city of Hasakah. I knew from watching the news that Hasakah was under threat from the Islamic State. Every day last spring, the government would shell the city’s outskirts. Sometimes a stray shell would land near us.

Laila’s tent, right, at the refugee camp.
Credit Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Times

رسالة من مهاجرة سورية إلى الاتحاد الاوروبي
هربنا من الحرب طلبا للأمان مع عوائلنا. لماذا يجعل الاتحاد الأوروبي حياتنا أكثر بؤسا

One day, at five in the morning, we heard the shelling and we knew that the Islamic State had arrived. I took my children and two bags and fled. In those days, everyone had two bags ready at all times: one containing important documents and the other clothes and other essentials. We ran through a dry riverbed. It was still muddy and we sank in up to our ankles.

Even before the Islamic State came, life under the Kurdish forces was very hard. There was no wood to burn. Once I asked my husband,

“If we took out one of the roof beams to put on the stove, and left one, do you think the roof would fall?”

He laughed.

“Yes,” he said. “It would fall, and we’d be living in the street on top of everything.”

If you have a son in Hasakah today he has to go to war. It doesn’t matter if he’s your only son or if he’s studying. If there’s no boy, a girl has to go. Someone from every house has to fight if you want to stay in the area. The Kurdish forces tried to conscript my daughter. I had to smuggle her out to Turkey.

Laila hopes to leave Idomeni to join her family in Germany.
Credit Eirini Vourloumis for The New York Times

Most of my family is in Germany, and so we decided to go there. We spent two months in a border area before fleeing to Turkey, where my husband was working. We found a smuggler through Facebook — a relative by marriage — and flew to Izmir. Two days later, we stood in the dark with 35 others somewhere on the Turkish coast.

We were the last people on the beach, my daughter, her husband, their baby and me. My daughter was sobbing. She said she didn’t want to go and that if she died, the guilt was around my neck. I didn’t know what to do. Then, like a dream, a young man came and lifted her and the baby into the boat. It was just me on the shore. I waded out to the boat. The smugglers lifted me from below, and my nephew pulled me up.

The day we arrived here in Idomeni people were still crossing the border into Macedonia. We thought we had arrived. We thought the hard part was the sea.

There is a saying in Arabic,

“Even heaven, without people, is unbearable.”

I have three sisters and three brothers in Germany. The European Union wants to keep us divided between countries. If we sign up for the relocation program and the European Union assigns us a European country and we get that citizenship, will we be able to go to our family in Germany? I’m afraid they will change the laws and we won’t be able to go even then.

In our own country we refused to be separated. Are we going to agree here? Everyone in Idomeni just wants to go to their families; otherwise they would not have undertaken this dangerous journey to be reunited with them. In the next tent, there are two women who haven’t seen their husbands in two years. The men are in Germany and haven’t been able to bring their wives and children.

I want all the leaders in Europe to hear me: If any one of them agrees to be separated from his son, I agree to do the same. Or his brother, or his sister, or his cousin.

If they want to do this to us, let them give us back what we lost to come here, and send us back to Syria. If I wanted to live among strangers I would have applied to go to Canada. If you’re sick, who will help you? You need your brother, your sister, your mother, your father.

 This post originally appeared here.

Laila is a licensed hairdresser. She asked that her surname be withheld because she fears telling her story could endanger her family in Syria or affect her asylum claim. As told to Laura Dean, a journalist based in Cairo.

New York Times

New York Times

The New York Times (NYT) is an American daily newspaper.

The views expressed by the writer and the reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of The Express Tribune.

  • Tired

    Oh yeah,blame the European Union..Did they hold a gun to your head and threaten you to come to Europe?

    Why you people never question your ummah countries like Saudi Arabia,Bahrain,Qatar where you can just walk by foot and they have the highest per capita income,similar culture,same religion but have accepted ZERO refugees so far??

    You are a refugee when you go to the first safe country like Turkey,Jordan etc.After that you are just a migrant.

    Why couldn’t you register yourself in Turkey and then travel by land or plane when you got the necessary documents??

    Instead why do you travel in unsafe boats to cross the Aegean sea to reach Greece?

    Once you land in Greece,why don’t you just stay in Greece instead of trying to move all the way to Germany or Sweden?

    Lithuania offered to take 2000 refugees but only 70 have applied so far. Portugal had offered 4000 but only 160 have applied to far?

    Why do you keep telling the host countries that the benefits they get is very less and demand them to move to Germany or Sweden which has the highest benefits??

    I thought as a refugee,being safe is your first priority.

    I will not talk about the increase in rapes,theft,robbery,sexual assault after the refugee influx because there are bad people in every cultures and I will not equate the terrorist attacks to refugees too.

    Only around 20% of European refugees have fled the warzone,rest of them are just economic migrants who just want to get into a benefit state and live on other’s money.Do you know that the Muslim immigrants are the most benefit hogging group in many countries of Europe and Asian immigrants the least.

    Thanks for your rant.It just proves that no matter what you will always blame us.Recommend

  • sterry

    The challenge is that Europe cannot accept every refugee from all over the world whenever there is conflict – this recent refugee crisis has made that clear. Afghans, Iraqis, Yemenis, Somalis, North Africans, Iranians, Syrians are all wanting to pay thousands to human smugglers to get to Europe but does Europe have to accept all the refugees of the world or should it work to fix problems there? This is the question. The Rohingyas, people in Congo and other places are far more destitute than the Syrians but no one cares about them unless they too start to flood Europe and then the Europeans might try to help the country of origin of the refugees. It may be that Muslim refugees in Europe live in ghetto type areas on state welfare or that some are involved in crimes and rapes but that is due to many factors.Recommend

  • Faulitics

    “We fled a war, and now the European Union is making war against us, a psychological war. ”

    I am sympathetic to the plight of the refugees but this sense of entitlement is sickening. EU doesn’t owe the syrians anything. Refugees don’t get to pick where they want to go. What they need is a safe place to go. The UN should pay turkey to house the refugees since it shares a border with Syria unlike Germany.Recommend

  • Commentator

    I appreciate your perspective and while I don’t completely agree with you, I do understand your concerns, but want to raise a couple of points:

    1. You are indeed right to point out that very few Gulf countries haven taken in refugees (though some have taken thousands of workers from Iraq that would likely have also become refugees).

    2. You are ranting on a Pakistani newspaper’s website. Pakistan has long been host to one of the largest refugee populations in the world (3 million Afghans and hundreds of thousands of Bengalis and Burmese for decades, and sadly a lot of internal refugees from the regions bordering Afghanistan in recent years…there are even a few Kurds). This means that a lot of Pakistanis are likely to not be too sympathetic to your ranting. Though public opinion has turned on Afghan refugees in recent years, there is no large scale movement to send the other nationalities back.

    3. The ultimate solution to the migrant crisis from the Middle East is to make a serious effort to end the conflicts in the region (through intervention if necessary, but preferably through diplomacy).


  • Rajiv

    Europe has no role in the war in Syria and as such no responsibilities of refugees.
    It’s Muslims internal problem.
    Why not Muslims countries sort out it themselves?Recommend

  • Bibloo

    May every country, except Haiti, deny you entrance.
    Haiti, where you will be mixing sugar cane juice with
    mud to make ‘honey cakes’. Honey Cakes the normal
    every day food of Haitian.Recommend

  • LS

    The “A Muslim is a Victim” story. Muslim is always a victim and he needs to tell his story to press/media – All these stories are there to gather sympathy for them…Recommend