Zain, 40 years old, from Damascus, Syria
Zain’s story is not your usual story of a Syrian refugee, escaping war to go to Germany. He actually left Germany, what seems to be the ‘dream country’, to be reunited with his family in Jordan and seek professional medical assistance. However, the closing of the borders has kept him trapped in Europe.
Zain was born in 1977 in Damascus of a Syrian father and Jordanian mother. His parents got a divorce when he was 2 and he was raised by his grandparents in Amman, Jordan. Zain, however, never received Jordanian citizenship because it is only granted paternally, and his father wasn’t Jordanian. His father died when he was only 7 and he keeps vague memories of him from photographs. Yet it is his Syrian passport that has sealed his fate for over a year now.
Zain moved to Syria at the age of 26 to study English literature. It is where he met his wife, in a computer class at a private school. “Of course it was love. Arranged marriages are stupid”, laughs Zain. “And of course she was Syrian. I could have only married a Syrian woman, because they’re renowned for their beauty and family values” Zain remembers nostalgically. They had a daughter who is now 13.
Zain worked in Kuwait and Qatar for a number of years and visited Syria only once or twice a year. One year, when he was in Qatar, his wife called him to ask for a divorce, which devastated him. His wife remarried shortly afterwards.
In 2010, Zain left Qatar after his contract ended, and moved to Damascus. That year, the revolution started and there were many demonstrations, heightened security checkpoints, many explosions. His ex-wife was killed when a bomb fell on her house in 2012. The city wasn’t safe so Zain took his daughter with him and moved to Amman, where he stayed until 2015. He did not have a job, and he found it especially hard to find work as a teacher with a Syrian passport. His mother, who had worked many years at a bank in Amman, suggested for him to go to Europe.
Zain’s journey began in September 2015. First, he went to Istanbul and then to Izmir. He was smuggled into Lesvos (Greece) in a rubber boat for $1,200. He explains: “On the night we crossed, the military patrol boat disappeared and then, some 50 boats with refugees left at the same time: it’s like there was a silent understanding between the military and the smugglers. Our boat arrived on the shores without any assistance from the Greek patrol.”
“I walked up the hill in the heat to a bus stop, and slept on the street. I had kept only my phone, some money and my passport with me, because I had to throw my clothes and other belongings in the sea so the boat wouldn’t sink.”
Taxis refused to take illegal refugees so Zain got in a private car with another family and paid some €250 to be driven 50 km to the port. The car dropped them in a deserted area further than promised and Zain had to walk another 10 km to the port. There, thousands of refugees were waiting to be registered and board the ferry to Athens. Zain had to pay for his own food and an extra €50 for the 12-hour boat trip to mainland Greece.
After staying in a hotel in Athens, he made it to the Macedonian border. “On the day I crossed, there were so many refugees that the military couldn’t stop us all from crossing.”
After that, Zain took another taxi, and then a bus to the Serbian border. “We just had to follow the crowds to know where to go. We were so many.”
Zain then had to register to travel to the Serbian capital. From there, he remembers having to walk on train tracks to get to the Hungarian border. In Hungary the police forced him to register again, and he was then sent by bus to the Austrian border. At the border, the Austrian police put him, and hundreds of other refugees in a bus, and took them to a transit centre.
“It was raining heavily. The conditions were so bad, that I decided to run away. Nobody saw me leave. I paid €350 for a taxi to Vienna with two other Egyptian men. From there, I took a train to Passau, the first border town in Germany.”
Once he was in Germany, the police took the newly arrived refugees to a school prepared to receive them. He registered and was free to move inside the country. He moved from camp to camp and ended up in Recke camp, where he spent a whole year. During that time, Zain was interviewed and received confirmation for his asylum request.
Unfortunately, in February 2016, Zain got a prostate infection. “They destroyed my health. They were a racist, unfriendly group. I didn’t like them, they didn’t like me” says Zain bitterly.
The camp only had generalist doctors and refused to refer him to specialists. They did a biopsy, prescribed antibiotics. Zain was still in a lot of pain, but was told he was not their sole care and suggested he be examined by a mental health specialist. Zain tried to fax the government, filed a police complaint, but the complaint against the responsible of the camp went in circles and came back to that same person.
Zain was in so much pain he decided to cancel his application for his much longed for asylum status, and in September 2016 bought a ticket from Dusseldorf to Amman via Athens to seek specialised medical assistance in Jordan, and be reunited with his mother and 13-year old daughter.
However, to his surprise, upon his arrival at the airport in Amman, he was not allowed into Jordan, and was detained for two days. Although half-Jordanian by blood, Zain only has a Syrian passport. He was put on a flight back to Athens, where he was detained for a week and then set free.
Zain found himself in the streets, while still having problems with his prostate. He found food and shelter in one of the squats in the city, where he was sharing a hotel room with five other people.
With no heating or hot water during the winter, and a chronic prostate problem, Zain is trapped in Athens away from his family and deprived of appropriate medical care: the Jordanian embassy advised he’d only be let in the country on a European passport, although Zain’s mother was Jordanian. Germany said he would most likely not be allowed back in after cancelling his asylum request. Zain is trapped in Greece, with little information as to how he can resolve his situation.
Photos: Ariela Moraru / Story by: Zain, contributed with help from Ariela Moraru