About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Alaa looking to the side sitting with his hands on his legs

Alaa Shublaq

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Photo and interview by:




Shanthuru Premkumar

“You as an artist should be like a bird moving from place to place, which is something I never found in Gaza because of barriers, wars and conflicts,” says Alaa Shublaq (31), a Palestinian musician. Alaa left Gaza in 2018, invited by the European Parliament to perform in Belgium, and was unable to return home because of conditions there: “You cannot travel, you cannot find a job. You can’t find a future for your family.” Unique challenges exist for musicians: “there are no theaters. There are no music venues.” Says Alaa: “What we experienced in the Gaza Strip was unbearable for anyone, but I think the suffering we experienced there gave me strength, stability and patience.” Music helped, too: “it’s the reason I’m here now.” Alaa’s dream is “that my message would reach the largest percentage of the world’s population.” He says: “I’m an artist, but an artist who supports his cause and his people. I’m their voice.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Do you want me to talk in Arabic or English?

In Arabic, Please.
My name is Alaa Shablaq, a Palestinian refugee from Gaza. I am 31 years old. I have been living in Belgium for three years, and I am a musician and music producer.

How do you describe the overall conditions in Belgium?
Well, it was difficult for me and for any refugee, especially in the first days. You come to a new country and you want to build trust and good relationships, and this is not easy. The first period was difficult, but now it is getting better gradually.

How do you spend your time here, do you have a job?
I do some volunteer work some days.

What are the things that make you happy?
The things that make me happy are music and anything related to art, and also standing on the stage brings me joy.

How has your life been since you arrived in Europe? What good things have happened since then and what are the difficulties?
As I told you before, life in Europe is not easy, especially during the first months after arrival. I faced some difficulties, but now I feel safe and comfortable.

What was good about being here?
I did not feel like an expatriate or lonely because there were people who like to get to know people. It was a very social community that respects others and their nationalities, whatever your religion is – Muslim, Christian or whatever. They respect anyone of any nationality or religion.

Can you describe how life here has made you feel?
How do I describe it?

Can you describe how the new life here feels? 
What do I feel now? I feel like I’m in a place full of life that I lacked in Gaza. I was deprived of mobility and traveling, I was deprived of the practice of many things that have to do with art. You as an artist should be like a bird moving from place to place, which is something I never found in Gaza because of barriers, wars and conflicts. Here I feel more free.

How do you feel when you are away from your family ?
Of course, being away from my family is not easy. I know that I am now alone in this country, away from my parents. No matter how many friends you have or how many acquaintances you know, your family will always be your number one priority. Yes, I feel that I am too far from them and I do not know whether I will see them again or not. But yes, it was not easy to be away from family members.

How can you imagine that the circumstances you went through affected your psyche?
As I told you, I have already experienced harsh conditions in my country. I have experienced three wars that have caused many difficulties in my country. I believe that these difficulties made me strong enough to face any other difficulties anywhere in the world. I believe that the harsh life we have lived in the Gaza Strip has made me strong from within and has made me able to face any difficulties, whether outside or anywhere.

I’ll give you two questions and then we’ll take a break. How has the Corona virus affected you as a musical artist?
We were very affected by this thing, because of our dependence as musicians on festivals and artistic performances, which were of course all canceled due to the virus. Now, they are gradually returning, but not as intended and have affected us psychologically. Of course, as an artist, you cannot stay alone without an audience for a long time. The audience is like an air for every artist. You will take your power from your audience. We have been deprived of this thing for two years. How did it affect my mood? I would say it affected me, but I benefited from it with other things that made me discover myself more and made me look forward to other things in me that I did not realize that made me realize that human life is very short. It made me respect life more and more.

Why did you leave your country?
Why did I leave my country? The first reason why I left my country is because it is very difficult to live anywhere like the Gaza Strip. First of all, because of the severe siege there since 2006, you cannot travel, you cannot find a job. You can’t find a future for your family. Even as a young person, an artist, or anyone who wants to practice his work or talent. It is very difficult to be able to live in the Gaza Strip or practice what he loves. First, because, as I mentioned, you are trapped; there are no travel crossings, and they are completely closed. Also, as a musician, there is not enough space to do your work. There are no theaters. There are no music venues. There are no places for shows. I am talking about a very small place. How can I describe what happened? I left for Belgium in 2018 at the invitation of the European Parliament. I traveled on that date to hold art shows in Belgium. I knew that there was no way to return to the Gaza Strip because of the current conditions in the Gaza Strip. 

How did you feel?
In the past, I always refused to leave my country. It is not easy to leave the country where you lived with all your memories and everything with your friends and family. It is not easy to give up all these things. But sometimes circumstances force you to take a risk. Let me say that it is a risk, but this is the case for all the people who suffer from bad conditions in their countries: they do not choose it. Unfortunately, it is fate that chooses.

Your experience of going to Europe was difficult compared to other refugees?
We are always angry about these procedures because you are a human being and each human is free to move. This is a freedom for anyone in the world. Freedom of movement is the bare minimum freedom of human beings. No one should be restricted in this world. We must all be free to move however we want.

Do you think about these events most of the time? What do you feel when you think about these events.
When I think about these events, I feel very angry and sad about what is happening to our people in the Gaza Strip. It is not easy to see this suffering for a people who have always dreamed of freedom and stability, which they’ve been deprived of for many years. They continue to suffer from these events and as I told you, I will not feel safe and secure until I see my people being liberated.

How has this situation affected you?
Of course, overthinking has affected me negatively. I will never be at peace or feel emotionally stable knowing that my family and friends in Gaza are suffering, especially from the recent war in the Gaza Strip. The war lasted for about 11 days. These days I wasn’t able to sleep for a minute knowing that people were being killed and others were suffering every day. Of course, this has negatively affected me.

Can you imagine that you were able to deal with this situation? How were you able to survive bad memories? Have you created any coping mechanisms to do so?
I believe that it was music that helped me: it’s the reason I’m here now, as I told you. I received an invitation from an institution here to work and music was the one that helped me most of the time.

What did you dream about before that incident and leaving your home? 
Before the war, my dream was, and it still is, that my message would reach the largest percentage of the world’s population. I’m an artist, but an artist who supports his cause and his people. I’m their voice; I am the artist who’s presenting their message. Most of the songs that I perform are real messages and true stories that happened in the Gaza Strip, whether with me or with my friends. I always try to make this message reach the largest number of people. It was my dream to do more and more shows to the world.

When you left your house, what did you dream of the future?
I really don’t know. I never thought about it. I’m sorry.

Before leaving your house what would you describe as your strength?
I think steadfastness, being strong and patient. As I told you, what we experienced in the Gaza Strip was unbearable for anyone, but I think the suffering we experienced there gave me strength, stability and patience.

What you’ve been through seems really difficult. Do you feel that you have matured after this experience?
Of course, living through successive wars in the Gaza Strip. I believe that all people there have the strength because of what they have experienced, and I think that whatever problems you face in your life and whatever difficulties you face. I believe that there is a strong determination within anyone who has experienced the war, whether in the Gaza Strip or anywhere in the world. I think I have the strength and fortitude to face anything difficult.

What do you hope for in your dreams about the future? Describe your dream.
My dream is to see Palestine without borders, peace prevail, and I hope that people in the whole world enjoy peace and live with respect for each other without hate.

Thank you again.
Thank you very much.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in English. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.