Translation by Yasmine Kataw
Editing by Twila Bird
Photography by Lindsay Silsby
We were very happy in Syria and our lives were good. Everyone in my family lived nearby. We were in and out of each other’s homes, we felt comfortable, and we were all together. We were happy in Syria. Our family worked as carpenters.
Then ISIS invaded our village on the first day. They began killing people without mercy because we don’t share their religion. They are forcing their religion on us, calling it an Islamic state. They’re killing everyone. They slaughter people in the name of God. They kill so many. They don’t bury them, only throw them in pits.
They are targeting families and shooting them. When they see a woman’s face, they hit her. Anyone who smokes gets a hand cut off. They won’t allow you to wear a shirt with any writing or drawings on it; you must wear what they want. If you want to open a store, you must sell what they want. ISIS destroys you; they make you throw away your religion.
Men are coming from other countries. Some are fighting for Bashar Al-Assad and some are fighting for ISIS. They are taking 14 and 15 year-olds and dragging them into the army. Why? We have 500 men in our village. When they saw that ISIS was getting stronger they joined them — all 500 from the same family [village]. They joined ISIS and now they seek revenge for past quarrels with others in our village and they kill them.
Our village was quiet [before the war]. It was full of refugees from Aleppo and other places. They built homes in our village. We didn’t have troubles back then. After ISIS came to the village, it was destroyed.
After the fighting began we no longer worked as carpenters. We worked with oil — barrels of oil. Some of the oil in Syria is supplied by the free army and some by ISIS. Ours was supplied by ISIS then we sold it to the people. If you don’t buy from ISIS, they impound your car and they put you in prison. If it’s from ISIS, they give you a paper, which allows you to pass through checkpoints.
Once we were coming back from Menbej and we stopped to get sandwiches. While we were eating, [we were in] a small store and a thick tree was nearby. A plane dropped a barrel bomb three meters away from us but God protected us [because of that tree]. A taxi close by was destroyed but we were protected. Thank God, we got out.
Then we went to Turkey to work and to find a safe place. I was planning to remain in Turkey with my parents but when my aunt was preparing to go to Germany, I told my father I want to go, too. He said, “Let’s go. Get your things ready.” In two or three hours we were on our way to my aunt’s house. I left with my aunt and her children. My parents did not come.
From my aunt’s house, we went to Izmir, from Izmir to Greece. The first time we crossed, the Turkish army caught us. They brought us back for a while until we went and crossed again and reached the sea.
We brought things with us to put in the boat but the Turkish smugglers didn’t let us take them. They stopped us and took everything. At sea, the waves were crashing on us and there was rain and wind. The smugglers took us half way and then pointed and told us to go towards a light [in the distance] and they left. The waves were high, God almighty! Where we were going the waves were high!
We got to the island but there was a hole in the boat and we sank. We remained in the water an hour-and-a-half before we could get out of the water. There were Nigerians in the boat who helped us — God reward them. There were five of them in the boat and about twenty children. The island was just trees, no people. We made a fire to warm up and remained there two days.
Fishermen with fishing nets came by and could see us. They came and told us they could take us to the beach [in Greece] if we would give them 100 euros for every six people. We paid because we had no other choice. We all paid. Some of us were taken by inflatable boat, about a hundred people.
When we got to the beach, a woman from Greece came and gave us food and blankets to get warm. We ate, then she took us to the police station where they began taking our fingerprints one by one. And pictures for our identification papers.
[We then traveled] from Serbia to Macedonia, from Macedonia to Croatia, from Croatia to Austria, and from Austria to here in Germany.
I am thirteen-years-old and I worry about my family.
e I worry about them a lot. My father loves me. My mother and father are sick. My mom has high blood pressure and my dad has three bad discs in his back so he can’t work. I want to live with them, but I can’t. I’m worried about my family all the time, every minute. It’s hard without them.
They want to come but there is no money. The borders are closed, they can’t. If my family can’t come here, I would like to go back to them in Syria. We were happy there before ISIS invaded and ruined our lives.
I wish [success] for those who try to help bring families together. I want to thank you all so much for listening to my story. And may God make you well for listening to our opinions.
Our team members obtain informed consent from each individual before an interview takes place. Individuals dictate where their stories may be shared and what personal information they wish to keep private. In situations where the individual is at risk and/or wishes to remain anonymous, alias names are used and other identifying information is removed from interviews immediately after they are received by TSOS. We have also committed not to use refugee images or stories for fundraising purposes without explicit permission. Our top priority is to protect and honor the wishes of our interview subjects.