Siba, 20 years old from Qamishli, Syria
“A lot of volunteers ask me, ‘Siba, what do you need?’ I don’t need anything. I have everything—I have respect for myself. I need to move.”
Siba was two years into her civil engineering studies when a bomb fell near her university, killing dozens of her classmates. It was the last straw for her mother, who had recently lost Siba’s brother in a bombing. They decided to cross Turkey in an attempt to reach Germany. After paying the Turkish police to release them from a detention center, they eventually made their way to Greece, where authorities dropped them off in a field with 400 other people—Ritsona refugee camp. “I told my mom, ‘We’ll only be here for two or three days; don’t be sad.’ Then someone said that we might be here for three months. I said, ‘It’s not true.’”
Now Siba, whose name means “young”, is eight months into waiting and scoffs at her former optimism. But she’s more determined than ever to excel at her studies, and has used her spare time to prepare for the entrance exams to European universities while also teaching math to the camp’s elementary schoolers.
Photo: Shayanne Gal / Story: Allison Voigts
By Siba Alsaker
Hope: This word for me means a lot of things. Especially now, when I’m a refugee. During my seven month stay at Ritsona Refugee camp, I’ve learned many things. I have had time to sit and think, and come to many reflections. While many people feel the border should be closed to refugees, there are also many who feel that it should be open.
When I first came to Greece, I came with many of my family members. We all started at Ritsona and I expected to be here only for a few days. But now I am separated from many of my family members and it has been seven months. And now I am staying at Ritsona for my last few days.
Because Europe first allowed refugees in, many were coming. But now they are closing the borders and treating us like prisoners. They make us choose between countries as if it is that simple. And Europe thinks that refugees are dangerous and the root of all the issues - as if we come here just to make money, and this simply is not true. They think we steal jobs, they think we take up space in Europe, and they think we are draining Europe’s resources.
Europe is not paradise for us. It would not be a choice for anyone to simply leave their country. The war was not our choice either.
Firstly, my family is scattered in many different countries. I have four brothers and sisters still in Syria, and I’m scared for them. I also have family in Germany and in Lebanon, and I have not seen any of them for a year now.
Secondly, I was forced to leave my life in Syria. There I had my friends, my family, my education, and all my possessions.
And finally, the border is not our dream, and it has never been our dream.
While many feel the borders should close, there are really many reasons they should stay open. The border should remain open because we need a chance to fulfill our lives. Everyone left their country for many reasons. Firstly, all are seeking a safe life. Secondly, everybody wants a normal life. Thirdly, everybody wants the opportunity to work, to study, and to contribute to Europe’s economy.
OPEN YOUR MIND EUROPE.
However, we are strong people and everything has changed for us; my understanding of what it means to be a refugee has changed in the past year. In Syria, refugees were treated with respect and no one saw them as refugees, but simply people. They were given housing, jobs, schools, and a normal life. But here, however, I don’t get respect from Europeans - everyone thinks that because I am Muslim, I am dangerous. I’ve come to Europe simply to finish my studies, and if the war finishes, I will go back. We have people with physical disabilities, wheelchair bound, older people, pregnant women, children without futures, and whole families living in tents.
Dream: If I want to do something, I will do it. I want to complete my studies, therefore I will complete my studies. I will do everything as I want to, and follow how I feel. No one can take away my dream, and the border is not my dream. My dream is to see these refugee children with a future, a safe life, able to go back to Syria and live a normal life like before - but thanks to Europe for making me a stronger person. My dream is infinite.
Photo: Shayanne Gal / Text: Siba Alsaker