About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Leen with her hands using the hood of her jacket to hide her face standing against a wall with animal printed fur


Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:




Abdalah Abdelhalim

“There was a great sense of loneliness, but at the same time there was a sense of security,” says Leen (33) of her early days in the Netherlands. She explains that she left Syria “to work and support my family financially,” but also due to persecution by a family member: “He was a very religious person, and I was a liberal person.” While on vacation from her job in Dubai, Leen’s employment contract was terminated, leaving her stranded in Europe. She applied for asylum in the Netherlands. “Everything happened suddenly and was a shock for me,” she recalls, “I had to start my life from scratch again, but the most important thing for me is that I feel safe here.” However, she feels “lonely and distant from [her] family,” whom she describes as her source of strength. Leen is learning Dutch and says that “in the future, I want to continue my work in my field of expertise.” Safety, she says, is essential: “Once a person feels safe, they can complete their path, work and pursue their dreams.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview


My name is Abdullah. I work as a photographer and storyteller about refugees in the Netherlands.
I’m Leen.

Well, what is your current situation in terms of where you live, your circumstances and with whom you live, how do you spend your time and do you work. Can you tell me more about these matters?
I have been living in the Netherlands for over a year now; three months ago I received my home in Zaandam. And at the moment, I live alone and have started studying in order to learn the language.

Do you work?
Right now, no, because I started studying, but I’m aiming for work.

How do you spend your time?
Right now, I just go out for a bike ride, and sometimes I go to see my friends. I have some friends who live here, but I spend most of the time alone.

What was your life like when you first arrived in the Netherlands? On the positive side and on the negative side, was it difficult or was it easy to live?
At first, surely it was difficult for me because everything was new to me, but I tried to cope. There was a great sense of loneliness, but at the same time there was a sense of security.

How do you feel after being away from your family and home?
At first, I have been away from my family for so long because I left Syria a long time ago to work, but I used to visit them every now and then, but now there is no hope to see my family and this makes me sad because we were so close.

How does the feeling of lack of belonging affect you? Can you describe to me what happened to you at the beginning of your arrival in the Netherlands. Did you imagine that you would be exposed to this matter before? In terms of integration and belonging.
Can you repeat the question?

Sure, have you ever imagined that you would adapt with the Dutch people in terms of merger and belonging?
Regarding the merger, it was not difficult for me, because I previously lived in a country where there were people from many different nationalities. As a person it’s easy for me to merge with different societies. I had no problem with differences because I am sociable.

So you feel that you belong to them?
Yes, for sure.

How has Corona affected you in terms of your daily life and mood?
At first, Corona was a major cause of radical changes in my life, because of Corona I lost my job and the life that I had already established, and it pushed me to start from scratch again. I stayed in the camp without working, without the company of anyone, so it did not affect me that much.

But it changed your life only in terms of work?

Well, at the right moment, how does it feel to live here in the Netherlands? Do you feel comfortable?
I have mixed feelings about it. As I have already told you that I had to start my life from scratch again, but the most important thing for me is that I feel safe here, this country is very safe, but I also feel lonely and distant from my family.

Why did you leave your home country? Can you describe to me what happened to you, what is your story?
First, I left my country in 2006. Before the war, I had more than one reason. The first reason was that I was being persecuted by one of my relatives because he was a very religious person, and I was a liberal person. So he always threatened my mother. The second reason was work. I traveled to Dubai to work and support my family financially.

How was your trip to the Netherlands? Have you had any difficult experiences you can tell me about?
I came here by train because I was on a vacation in Germany. During the vacation last year, I was informed by my work in Dubai that my employment contract would not be renewed. It was very difficult for me. Later on, I learned that the Netherlands was the safest country for asylum. I made the decision to come and apply for asylum in the Netherlands, so I came from Germany to the Netherlands and applied for asylum.

You were at work, then you went out of Dubai to Germany on a vacation, and while you were in Germany, they fired you from work?

Because of Corona?
Because a decision was made by the Human Resources Department from the head office of the company not to renew employment contracts for anyone whose employment contract will expire within one or two months, so the administration informed me a while ago to be aware.

So you can no longer go back to Syria.
Yes, I can no longer return to Syria or Dubai.

That forced you to stay in Europe.

Have you ever imagined that this will happen to you?
This situation was never considered. I mean, even when I left Dubai, I was carrying a small bag, I was planning to leave for only one week and then go back to work. Everything happened suddenly and was a shock for me, but I managed to get over it and started to cope with it, but it is still has some mental effect on me.

At the moment how are you feeling? Do you have a dream for the future?
Currently, I feel that I have passed some psychological effects that happened to me, I am trying to cope with it. Like I have already told you, this country is very safe. In the future, I want to continue my work in my field of expertise that I got in Dubai, but of course that is after I complete learning the language because I have just started it.

Before you leave your home country, what were your strengths and whether you kept them or not, and in case you did not maintain them, what was the reason?
My strengths were my family, because they were always by my side. I am one of the people who love being with their family. I have been away from my family for a long time, and I started to adapt to living away from my family.

What are your dreams and hopes for the future?
I want to complete my work in the field of work in which I have gained several years of experience through my work in Dubai. I also dream of completing my work here in addition to learning the language.

Do you have anything to add that will help new refugees coming to Europe? Do you have any information or advice you would like to give them?
Yes, of course. First, this is not easy for anyone who wants to immigrate from one country to another, but I advise them to be strong and not get weak. Since the country provides help and safety, it is important that a person feels safe and once a person feels safe, they can complete their path, work and pursue their dreams. Therefore, it’s important for them to depend on themself and not to depend entirely on the country.

Thank you.
Thank you.

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.