Salim, 27 years old, from Aleppo, Syria
“I finished my military service in Syria when I was 23. In our culture, after completing our service, it is tradition to get married, and so when I got home, I told my mother that I was ready to get married and she should help me find a wife.”
Salim, from Aleppo, arrived in Greece 8 months ago, with his wife, Mounya and two daughters; Jenna aged 5 and Ola aged 1. His father and mother in law are traveling with them, as well as his sister and brother in law; Mounya’s family. He remembers how they first met.
“It was love at first sight. As soon as I saw her I knew I wanted to marry her. She served me tea and she accidentally touched my hand. We were both embarrassed and didn’t dare look at each other.”
Salim worked two jobs for 6 months to pay for the wedding, and only slept 3 hours a night. But he laughs when he recalls the story. “I kept thinking about how much jewelry I was going to buy her.”
After their wedding, Salim and Mounya bought a house, but they only lived in it for 6 months before they fled to Turkey, following increasing insecurity in Aleppo. “The food prices went up and I couldn’t even afford to buy milk for my little girl. Jenna was just under 3 years old then; there was no future for her in Syria.”
In Turkey, Salim found a job as a blacksmith to support his family, but never received a single dime for his work. “Turkey is not a good place to live if you are a refugee. They take advantage of us, and they don’t like Syrians.” His parents, who live in Germany, sent him 2000 euros to travel to Greece by boat with the whole family. They attempted the crossing twice, as the first time, the Turkish police caught them and detained them for 2 days. Jenna was 3 years old, and Ola was 4 months. On the second try, the smugglers made them get into a cramped van with several dozen people, to get to the shore where the boat was waiting.
“We were so scared on the water, but when we looked up to the sky, we saw the name of God written in the clouds, and so we kept hope.”
Salim feels that organizations such as IOM (International Organization for Migration) use refugees to make money, but do not provide adequate services and information.
“They are liars, and do not care about us. Every time we ask for something, the reply is ‘bukra, bukra’ (tomorrow, tomorrow). Now that the winter is coming, we are so cold at night in the tents. We have been waiting to move into the caravans for weeks. The date is always changed. ‘Bukra, bukra’. It is so frustrating.”
The family around him raise their eyes to the sky and sigh. His mother-in-law makes a hand sign of anger and frustration. The ISO-boxes, or semi-permanent living facilities, that have been promised for October are not yet ready, and upon their construction they stand looming over the camp, like a bitter reminder of unreachable haven. As the days get colder, residents of the camp are becoming increasingly frustrated at the slow progress of the IOM and the Greek military, to ready the ISO boxes.
But Salim is grateful for all the volunteers who come from all over the world to help. “It is good to see people who come here to understand how we live, and we are grateful to be able to share a meal with them. Before I came to Europe, I thought that all Europeans have good hearts and care about the well-being of refugees. I thought they would help us send our children to school and understand our plight. But the reality is not what I had imagined.”
Photos: Clara Veale / Story: Voices of Refugees