About Refugees, By Refugees
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“Before the war my dream was to have a decent lifestyle with my beloved ones around me,” says Syrian refugee Jad Salem (pseud, 30), who went to the United Kingdom to study and later sought asylum there. And his biggest hope now? “The most thing that I wanted to be done and I hope it’s done very soon, it’s my paperwork with the UK government.” Jad has found the asylum process “frustrating” and “mentally challenging.” He says he felt rejected; “I don’t see myself as a like, as part of this country.” Worse than the process though has been “being apart from your family, your beloved ones.” But Jad says an attitude of “everything will get better soon” has helped – “This is the coping mechanism I’m using.” And he’s learnt to adapt. “It’s like throwing a person in a sea,” he says. “If you didn’t learn how to swim, you will die.”
Hello, Jad. How are you?
I’m fine, thank you. How are you?
I’m all good, thank you. Can we start by introducing yourself, please?
Yes, my name is Jad and you can call me Jad. It’s fine. Um, yeah, I’ve, um. Hmm. Interesting. How do you want me to introduce myself?
In whatever way you want.
Yeah. OK, so to relate to the subject, I’ve entered the U.K. in 2018. Um and I am a refu, an asylum seeker since twenty nineteen I guess no January 2020. Um yeah. And this is the part which relates to what you are seeking to have from my side this evening.
Do you have any hobby? Do you have any interests? Um would like your, your background or your studies or.
Yeah. I like curing movements about sustainability and um having a new world that has a different kind of identities and um. Different prospects to what we used to have and thinking in like multidimensional ways. So we are not um. Framed in one dimension. But anyways, yeah, my hope is not I don’t have any kind of hobbies. I like sports very much.
That’s nice. How about your individual? What did you study when you were in Syria?
Individual sports, not team sports.
So what did you study when you were in Syria?
Uh, I studied architectural engineering.
OK, so you’re you’re an architect?
Yeah, I am an architect… …by name.
OK, cool. Thank you. OK, so I’m going to start by telling you the purpose of this interview. And first, I’m going to start by telling you that your experience is really valued and we really appreciate you taking part in this. So, so, the purpose of this interview is to to help people be more understanding of our situation as refugees and asylum seeker seekers. OK, so the thing is…
Like people in Europe, Europeans in general.
You know, you don’t have to be identified in the interview nor in the picture if you wish.
The interview and the picture will be available on the Internet and media might use it. Any type of media outlet can use it. So your family, your friends, people, you know, might see it, might see the interview or the picture. Um, so so this is just for you to have a full idea of how widely your story could be distributed. OK?
Yes, but we agreed that my identity would be anonymous.
Yes, we will do that in the story form in a bit, OK?
OK, thank you.
Um, so there will be forms that you need to sign to show like so so that you give us permission for the interview and the photo. I would ask you to sign them in a bit. I’m going to ask you some personal questions. You don’t have to answer anything that makes you feel uncomfortable or reveal or reveal any names or situations that would make you feel bad, sad or unsafe. OK?
At any part you can take a break, you can skip a question. You can tell me that you don’t want to answer this question or you can end the interview at any part, OK?
And you can even withdraw your consent.
OK? Um do you have any questions? Do you want me to explain anything before we move on?
No thank you.
OK, thank you. Uh, let’s start now by filling the story form. I’m going to pause the audio now so that we can work on the story form and then we will go back. OK?
OK, thank you.
OK, so we signed the forms and the um the personal release and now we’re going to move on with the questions. Are you comfortable to move on?
OK, so we will start with your current situation.
So what kind of housing do you live in?
I live in a rental housing, so I rent my own room.
OK, can you describe the conditions?
The conditions are good between good and very good. So I live in my own room. I share the common areas such as bathroom and toilet and kitchen and living room with one person only, which is the landlord.
How do you spend your time here?
Uh, you mean generally?
Yeah. So I woke up around 8:00. I, um, set myself to go to work during these, um, hard circumstances as covid I work from home. So I work from nine till five thirty. Uh, I have my lunch break between one and two and up to five thirty I have my, uh, dinner and then, um, I have my leisure time, so maybe seeing some friends going out, doing some extra work. Um, yeah.
OK, but what are some of the things that bring you joy.
Brings me joy? Uh hmm. Nothing really.
Nothing like..seeing friends cooking?
I mean, yeah, definitely such kind of stuff brings a, um, like more mental happiness, but it’s not something that I can describe as joy or permanent joy. Uh, definitely having, um, friends and talking to family, making sure they are safe brings some kind of relief. Yeah.
OK, um, how has life been since you arrived in Europe? What’s been good about being here? What’s been difficult?
Hmm. So if I want to describe my situation in the UK, um, I can, um, categorize it to have two main, uh, periods. The first one, which was before being an asylum seeker where I had my scholarship, sponsoring me, studying in a very, um, high profile university meeting new people from different cultures. It was amazing times. Um, and the other period is the period after, um, being an asylum seeker, which was kind of frustrating, um, mentally challenging and, um. Yeah, frustrating. And we could not, um. I cannot, um, uh, like not mention the current situation of covid, because it definitely affected us all.
OK, can you can you give me more information about how being an asylum seeker?
Um, yes, definitely. So when I took the decision to be an asylum seeker, first of all, the process was mentally consuming. It wasn’t very, um, like a comfortable process. I’m not talking physically, but I’m talking mentally because you go through very difficult times when you are waiting there for more than four and five hours, you start reflecting on yourself and what, um, made you do and take such decision. So it’s not easy at all. Um, and the atmosphere there is a little bit hostile. So you don’t have a very pleasant people welcoming you or you have a very um. Uh, structured, um, way of dealing with things, which makes you think and feel like your subject in this atmosphere rather than a human they are dealing with, um, and afterwards after that, like the immediate interaction with the system as the same secret afterwards, you definitely have a lot of things to think about because they assume that you are as it is in here and you know everything and you need to do everything. So, for example, you need to contact the lawyer or solicitor. You need to, um, track your application. You need to register yourself with a doctor, a GP. Um, you need to find a job to sponsor yourself and all of these things. You need to do it by your own without any help of any kind of, uh, or other governmental or or non-governmental organization system based on my knowledge.
So the lack of assistance is was like the most difficult part of it.
The lack of assistance during this time.
Uh, it’s not lack of assistance, but it’s like they are assuming that, you know, certain things and you need to act in a certain way, um, which, uh, definitely it’s hard. And I mean, I consider myself a privileged person because I speak English. I can provide myself with a decent job because I have, um, I’ve been educated. Um, so. Yeah. But others won’t be having such a privilege, unfortunately.
OK, can you describe how living here has made you feel?
Um, yeah. That also can be divided to different uh to two different periods. The first one was um mind opening, uh, diverse way of living, which makes you, um, think in a different way. Like why didn’t your point of view and perspective, uh, when you interact with your ideas and your self conscious. But the other period was, which is after applying for asylum, was more like, uh, why I did that to myself. Why am I being treated like this? Um, why I am being, um, rejected from the hosting community. So it’s always a negative feedback, especially with women. I mean, um, I am a person who follows the news and and, um, I read the British media and see it. And definitely it’s not a very positive atmosphere. So, Yeah.
How did all that make you feel?
Um, a little bit pushed away. Uh, rejected. Uh, definitely. I don’t see myself as a like, um, as part of this, uh, of this country. Uh, however, the individuals I’ve dealt with, they’ve been nice. I’ve never had a very aggressive, um, uh, negative situation because of my identity. But at the same time, I hide my identity, like, for example, even the person I live with, he doesn’t know that I’m asylum seeker. Um, so. Yeah.
How does being away from the rest of your family and from home, from your friends at home make you feel?
Hmm. I mean, it’s definitely the the worst part of this whole process being apart from your family, your beloved ones, your, um, friends. Um, and it’s not just about the current situation. It’s also about the future because, you know, like for the long run, you won’t be able to see them physically, especially with the, um, regulations and, um, uh, hardship that they might face if even they want to come and see me instead of me going and visiting them.
OK, and how does that make you feel?
I’m frustrated, definitely. Uh, but at the same time, um, separated from my, um, others, let’s say so. Yeah.
OK, and how does the feeling of not belonging or discrimination, if you’ve been through any. Yeah. Kind of situation, um, or stigma, um, impacts you?
I mean, as I’ve mentioned, I’ve never faced a personal, um, uh, discrimination situation. Um, but it could be also related to the fact that I don’t identify myself as a refugee ever. Um, so that’s first. However, the the the general atmosphere definitely makes me feel like I am not welcome in the UK. And definitely I need to, um. Let’s say, uh, think about other, uh, options for the near future.
OK, good. Could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle the situation?
Uh. Not really no.
How how have you been able to overcome or survive or live with it?
Um, it wasn’t like, oh, I imagine it’s going to be so different. We have our own, um, imaginations and our own, um, way of thinking, framing us, like expecting us to act in a certain way. But when you are in the actual situation, it’s a little bit different. So, yeah, that’s first. Second, definitely the the the support from the my peers and, um, the people around me definitely helped a lot.
OK, um, do you think that you developed the ability to deal with these challenges or do you think you always had those skills or mechanisms, let’s say, or strength?
No, I never I definitely didn’t have these kind of, um, characteristics before. It’s something I it’s not something I developed. Um.
Yeah, OK. Carry on.
Yeah, it’s not something that I developed, it’s something I was forced to adapt with.
OK, can you tell us more about this?
Yeah, it’s like throwing a person in a sea and tell them, OK, if you cannot swim and if you didn’t learn how to swim, you will die. So, yeah, they will have to learn to swim, otherwise they will die. So, yeah.
How has COVID-19 affected you in terms of daily life and your mood or like feeling or emotional well-being?
Uh, I mean, at first, definitely. First, it played a role in my, um, application. So now the authorities were responsible of giving me a decision on my asylum case. They are making excuses because of covid, um. Definity their safety is more important and then, um, a couple of months of waiting. But, um, this kind of excuses, um, makes me feel, um, makes the uncertainty, um, more vague. And, um, it makes me, um, feeling frustrated even more. Anyways, that’s one reason. The other one is definitely because I was working during covid and it played a role in not having an actual physical normal interaction with my peers and colleagues. So I didn’t really take advantage of the opportunity I had, um, working with my colleagues. And I might have faced, um, um, I might not be able to keep my job because of covid. Um, and thirdly, um, seeing friends and seeing my support system here in London, definitely COVID made some restrictions, um, which prevented me from being around them. Um, and fourth is my, um, perception of what what might happen to my family back home, because they don’t have such a support system and like health care and and, um, similar, um, tools to tackle COVID-19 back home. So, yeah, I am also worried about them as well. Yeah.
OK, so I’m going to ask you about two things. How did you feel about, like the possibility of losing your job, how do you feel about that, because of covid?
Can you answer this and then…
Yeah, um, can I have a break, please?
OK, so we’re back from the break now. Are you comfortable to move on?
Yes, please. Thank you.
You’re welcome. So I was asking you, how how does the possibility of losing your job because of COVID makes you feel?
It’s something I was thinking about since March, since, um, um, I think the whole COVID situation. And so it’s something I had to develop resilience against that. Um, so definitely I’m I am sad or, um, like, worried about my future, but however, if this is the cure and lifestyles that we need to adopt within, yeah, I am just one of these millions who are losing their jobs.
OK, and how does the current situation of COVID-19 in Syria and like your family being there now in this and under these circumstances, how does that make you feel?
I’m sorry. Can you repeat the question?
So because of the current situation now in Syria.
And because your family lives there.
How does that make you feel?
Um, yeah, I’m worried, um, um, like they always in the back of my mind, um, uh, thinking about about them, about they’re trying to it’s trying to inform them on a daily basis that, like, don’t go there, don’t do that, don’t do this. Uh, so I am occupied as well, uh, with the idea of trying to protect them.
OK, um, thank you so much for your answers. Now, we’re going to move to the second part of this interview, which is talking about your past, OK?
Uh, OK. So we talked about my future?
No we talked about the current situation.
Yeah. So, um. The first one, the first question is why did you leave your country? Yeah, why did you leave the country?
Oh, okay. And so I left my country because my aim was to go and study abroad. Yeah.
Can you tell us more?
Yes. So I finished my undergraduate studies and I decided I need to and learn and enhance my, um, knowledge. So, yeah, I decided to study abroad.
OK, tell us more about this. Like, how did you study abroad?
OK, so first, because my second language is English, so I decided to go either US, Canada, England and these kind of countries, which speaks English. So first I looked on the map. It seems we are banned from going to the US, uh, in the far. I don’t I don’t want to go back this way, but yeah, I don’t think people like me are welcome to Australia as well, um, because of the atmosphere, the political atmosphere. Um, so the option was to go to the U.K. It’s a very, um, highly profiled country to study. I would learn a lot in its universities. So, yes. Why not to go to the U.K.? So I started, um, my research to to check where I should study, how I’m going to do the funding, etc.. So I ran into a couple of scholarships and I decided that scholarship does suit my personality and my career path and vision. So, yeah, I applied for it and I’ve been awarded a scholarship.
How did that make you feel at the time?
I was thrilled. Um, I was looking forward the experience. So it’s like I’m looking for something you don’t know. But you think it’s positive? Um, yeah.
So how was how was the journey to Europe? From your country to Europe, how was it?
You mean physically what what happened?
Yeah. So I took a taxi from my house to Lebanon and then took a plane from Beirut Airport to London Heathrow.
Mm hmm. Is there any is there an experience that was particularly difficult that you could tell us about?
Um. Definitely, yes. I mean, um, instead of flying from my country to London in like, uh, seven or eight hours flight I, my journey took 20 hours. Uh, definitely. Lebanese customs weren’t very pleased of making me entering Lebanon. Um, uh, even the Heathrow officer wasn’t was a little bit surprised that “Oh you are Syrians and you you have a visa to the U.K”. So I was like “OK, yeah”. It wasn’t very obvious, of course. Um, but, uh, you know, you can you can feel the attitude of others. So, yeah, this is the vibe that I’ve sensed. It’s not something that they acted like they are not welcoming. They were professional and they were doing their job. But yeah, this is what I felt. Maybe I felt wrongly.
But how did that make you feel at the time?
Mm. I was expecting such thing so it wasn’t like something I was really feeling anything towards.
OK, tell us a little bit about the time before you got the scholarship, when you were planning to to leave Syria.
Yeah, I just met my friends, told them I’m leaving. We did our own farewell party like, OK, you’re leaving, we won’t see you for a long time. Blah, blah, blah.
So yes how did this, like this part of, like, saying goodbye to friends and family? How did that make you feel in general? Uh, having to leave everything behind?
Yes, because of the idea, it wasn’t like I am leaving them behind. The idea was like I am leaving and coming back soon. Um, so. Yeah. And it’s at the same time, I was always trying to push myself like, OK, you’re going to have a new experience. This is what happens in normal life. You just go from one large experience to the, uh, the next one. So it was like, yes, this is kind of like a journey and this is the steps of this journey. Not like it’s something I’m leaving behind or like disconnected from.
So do you think about this very often, like, you know, you like the whole process of like getting the scholarship, having to leave Syria and then then after that, after he got the scholarship, you finished your studies and then you found out that you can’t go back to Syria.
So you do you think about these events often?
I used to. But now with the modern lifestyles that we are forced to adjust with, it doesn’t give you the opportunity even to reflect to such events. So currently, no, I’m not really.
But is there something in particular that you think about often?
Um, the previous events that I’ve been through?
No, not really, no.
No. But now I have like flashbacks of like the last time I met my friends, it was like one day before leaving we had we put some songs about traveling and throwing people in different places and having this kind of gloomy and black atmosphere. Like, yeah, it doesn’t are very encouraging to go and do your what you are dreaming of. It was more like, oh, we are not going to see you again. Blah, blah, blah. So, yeah, this is the flashback I have right now when you ask me the question. But otherwise, no.
So when you when you think about, like any difficult memories or hard times, you you went through, uh, since you decided to leave the country till now, have you have you created any kind of like strategy or coping mechanisms to get through these memories?
Uh. Yes, it’s kind of like don’t think about them right now. Everything will get better soon. This is the coping mechanism I’m using.
OK, so it’s optimism.
No, it’s denial. (laughing)
OK, um, where do you find strength and support?
Um, the first thing I can think of is my family, because even after I decided to apply for asylum in the UK, they’ve been supportive. At the same time, my sister, for example, she did support me financially. Otherwise I would be kind of homeless in the UK.
OK, and how did that like, you know, threat of being homeless in the UK may make you feel?
Um, definitely it’s not something that I think about because I don’t want to face such reality and because I have my support system. Um, I was kind of pushing the idea away rather than facing it or thinking how I can overcome such difficulties or what I could do. Blah, blah. Um, so. Yeah.
Okay. Um. OK, so. Before the event that led you to flee home occurred or let’s say before you got the scholarship, what was or let’s let’s say even like before the war in Syria, before the war happened in Syria, it started like before 2011. Um, what was your dream? And and for this answer, I want to ask you, please, to say before the war, my dream was and then say your answer.
Hmmm, I’m not like a dreamy person, so I don’t have a specific dream, I was always thinking about…
Anything you had in mind for the future before the war. What was like your image about your future?
Okay, my dream about my future was being, um.
OK, I need to interrupt you. Sorry, but you need to say before the war, my dream was…
Before the war my dream was to have a decent lifestyle with my beloved ones around me, all of them, and being able to bring joy and love to the people I admire and love.
OK, now, when you were leaving the country.
What was your dream for the future? And I want you here to answer: I dreamt that…
Hmm. I dreamt that I will be able to see all of, um, the people I am saying goodbye to very soon.
Any other dreams or.
No, not really. Do you want me to say, like, uh, I dreamt to be like a doctor or something? (laughing)
No, like like any type of dream, like, um, I don’t know like traveling the world, having some, like, you know, professional aspirations.
OK, so now we’re moving to the last part of this interview.
Can I have a break before moving?
Thank you so much.
Thank you for your time.
Thank you. OK, so now we’re back from the break. Before the break, I was telling you that we we’ve come to the last part of this interview.
Um, so my first question in the last part is…
Is it about the future?
Um, maybe. We’ll see.
Yeah, OK. Interesting way of you structuring the interview. Yeah.
OK, so before leaving your home country, what would you describe as your strengths?
Take your time to think about this.
I don’t get mad easily.
What else? Um. Um. Sorry, can you repeat the question?
So before leaving your home country, what was what would you describe as your strengths?
OK, you were you were more ambitious.
Not necessarily more ambitious, but I was ambitious and maybe I’m still ambitious.
OK, can you can you tell us more about this?
Like I was, I always had like, um, short term goals that I seek and I always did what I wanted to do and I’ve always, um, get what I want.
OK, have you maintained the strength?
I mean, how a person maintains a certain?
Strength, yeah, because what people usually, not usually, but like people tend to lose their strength.
Yeah, these things happen so.
I didn’t do anything to maintain this.
You also told me about, like, how you used to be more patient, let’s say, like you didn’t get mad easily.
Have you maintained this?
How did you?
Because it’s something in my, um, personality. It’s not something that I maintain or do not maintain or I work on it. Something in my personality. It’s something that defines me.
OK, um, do you feel like you have grown in any way as a result of, like, the experiences you’ve been through, um, or has anything at all positive come out of it?
Yes, definitely. Now I am more open and um and I am more interactive with others, uh and more and yeah.
Did you grow in any other way?
Yeah, I’m older now.
But look, I mean, maybe professionally on a social level or on.
I mean, it’s a matter of time, isn’t it? Um, so wherever you are in the world, um, if you have ambition and you want to grow, then you will grow in just different pathways. But it doesn’t mean that you won’t grow if you in a different atmosphere.
OK, um, what are your hopes and dreams for the future now? And I want you to answer this by saying: my dream is…
Why are you focusing on dreams? I mean, this is a very this…
This is like this is one of the things that we want to focus on, like the dreams of refugees.
OK then define dreams, because I don’t…
Any any kind of dreams.
Yes, because dreams is um is a term that is a little bit overrated, in my opinion.
Dreams or hopes or we all have like hopes for the future. I mean, like on a personal level, on a professional level, on an academic level
On the social level.
I mean, for example, if I want to categorize it, if I want to say, OK, based on my situation, maybe the most thing that I wanted to be done and I hope it’s done very soon, it’s my paperwork with the UK government, for example. But it’s not a dream. It’s not something I dream of.
This is one of your hopes for now.
I mean, yes, if you want to say so, if you think it’s it’s defined as a hope, but it’s something just the thing you need to do and you need to have it done.
OK, let’s say like where do you want to be in the future? How do you see yourself in the future?
I mean, definitely I see myself in the future being a role and changing others life positively, uh, playing a role in having a more resilient and sustainable future for all, for our for our own sake and for the next generation I dream of and yeah having a totally different social manner that where we all live in harmony and we listen to and listen to others.
OK, amazing. Thank you so much. Um, we really appreciate you answering all these questions. Is there anything you’d like to add that might help people in Europe better understand the life of refugees and asylum seekers here?
Uh, yes. I would like to say that I do not agree with you. I don’t like and framing dissenting views on the basis of refugees. I believe that the identity that is being given to refugees by because you’ve mentioned Europe at the start of the interview. So I would I would use your term and say that identity which Europeans are giving to refugees, it’s something that you need to be thought of because being a refugee is not an identity and it’s not something that you can give to a group of people and identify them based on that. Because, for example, um, a refugee from Syria and a refugee from, uh, I don’t know, Iran, for example, um, they might share a lot of characteristics, uh, and they might may not share anything. So we should know that being a refugee is not a status. It’s not a an ID. It’s not something that we need to look to the person who holds such a status, um, uh, as it defines their, um, past and future and current situation.
So, yeah. So the purpose of this project is actually to fight the stereotypes that evolve around refugees.
So this is like this is what we need here. We need like to know how like if you have like anything to say that might help people understand the struggle that you and other asylum seekers or refugees go through.
Yeah. So first we need to to remove our assumptions. So, for example, the question you’ve asked me right now, you’ve you’ve used the term struggle, so maybe you can find a refugee who didn’t struggle.
Yeah, of course.
Yeah. So this is stereotyping. And somehow, um, so, yeah, I believe we need to stop having this oriented projects and frameworks where “OK, look, refugees can work. Oh look, refugees can learn language. Oh look, this is a success story of refugee who started their own job in making cheese. I mean, this success story can be happening everywhere in the world. A Brit can start making cheese and a refugee can but refuse. Being a refugee is not an identity to identify people using media because such kind of classifications also bring the negative side. So when a refugee do some bad thing, you will have the media saying, oh, look, refugees do bad things as well.
OK, well, thank you so much for your answers.
Oh, thank you for your time and I wish you the best of luck in your project.
Thank you so much. And, yeah, thanks a lot for all your answers and for your time.
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.