About Refugees, By Refugees


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I feel like I’m living in a void, in a big vacuum,” says Nader (35), an artist from Syria who fled to Germany as a refugee due to his political opinions and the Syrian civil war. “I’m just counting the days. But I don’t know, but I feel like I’m swimming, but with no shore or coast nearby and I’m still swimming.” Being in Germany, Nader says, “is good just because I’m safe, but I’ve lost a lot.” Nader admits that he’s had suicidal thoughts at times, and struggles to feel like he belongs anywhere aside from his studio. His experiences, he says, have reshaped him to be strong. But he also wonders about the “question is war normal to be strong to face it,” asking: “What does it mean to be stronger in this way?” Looking ahead, his dream is to see his family again, to fall in love, to be able to travel freely, and “to have the end of this overthrown the president of Syria because he is the president of the Devils himself.”

Trigger Warning: Suicidal thoughts

full interview

Um, what kind of housing do you live in at the moment?
I’m living in communities.

With artists around.

Uh-hum And can you describe the conditions of it?
And it’s very like comfortable and convenient, especially for me. Everyone is cooperating and they are really responsible about the house. And they have this kind of feeling positive feeling toward the house. And they have all of them know this is the most important thing, no racist background or idea or mentality. So at the end of the day, they are, you know, artists.

Yeah, so, I’m I’m lucky to be there. Yeah.

Uh-hum Was it easy to find this place?
Not so easy, and but not too difficult to find it so because a friend of mine has helped me to to get that contact. And then I applied myself as any artist and it did work out.


Great. And uh how do you spend your time in general?
It’s a very complicated question. right. Now, if you asked me, how would you like to spend your time? So I would say by paintings like painting a lot and every day and being as a professional artist. But because the pressure of this life and circumstances, especially like during this pandemic, oh, it’s a little bit difficult because I spend all the time lately just looking for a job. And it’s really hard to find a job because of the. Because of many obstacles, mainly the language, although that my language the German language is not so bad, but there is kind of this is mentality in Germany, like, first of all, we couldn’t deny there is like this is kind of xenophobic, you know.

And another reason is this is kind of not knowledging the your skills, but going for if you have an internship or like Ausbildung or not, and especially in Germany. So I am totally like able just to to work because I’m very good to draw or and I I’m not like trying to be proud of, but I could just. Okay. I’m very good. Like caricature or or portray Zeichner drawer or every all of these stuff. I’m really good at them but Despite of this fact, I’m not able to to get in a job that will in kindergarten or something, teaching drawings because I don’t have this kind of pedagogic.  Which is depend more on like, theory, more than like practical side, you know, so this is has put me in this circle just looking for a job in logistic field, which I don’t like. And though I couldn’t find. But today, maybe hopefully, like there is like the final solution by DHL to work there. But, you know, like working there, like as an artist is really like very bad because you would physically it’s hard and then you couldn’t have your own time just to improve. I would say improved because after this is cut off, like, you know, it’s and since 2018, I couldn’t manage to to build like or paint a big scale paintings that I do like. So it’s rather sketches. And this is kind of just stuff that. And to this as a distraction and like distract myself of the main idea, because I do like and I found I find myself when I’m dancing around a painting, a big painting. So all of this stuff, they need money and they need kind of time. And uh this is kind of difficult equation that I couldn’t find it in my life. Yeah. Had lead me just looking for a job. And and I feel that I don’t like as a logistic. So, yeah, right now I’m looking for a job. So this is the.


And, um, what are some of those things that bring you joy?
Paintings, drawings as well. Talking to my family. I’m dreaming. Mm. And that’s. 

And, um, how has life been since he arrived in Europe?
Frankly, physically unsafe, but psychologically, it has been like this. And not so good, so year after years, like just looking for I don’t know about the horror stuff that I witnessed it in Syria, maybe had give me this kind of immunity to be strong and face all of this stuff here. So I’m every time I’m walking from the bed out of the bed, so asking myself what makes me continue? I admit that sometimes I have this kind of suicidal thoughts, you know, but then again, it’s yeah. And I would assume that everyone, like, had this kind of thinking, especially when you are just planted out of your, like, secure nest because of bloody shitty presidents and political situation, that one doesn’t have any stuff to do with it. So. Yeah, it’s really if I would describe myself here in Germany, I would say it’s kind of slight nightmare. So not kind of horror nightmare, but still, though, the nightmare that. Because of its it’s not because of the situation of the country, but because of it’s the situation that the country has built on, you know, so instead of being productive in this country, I was like just living on the subsidies from cities and there is no kind of good orientation. How could orientate myself? And every time, like facing none-  the like the people, they are working a job center or like they don’t have any idea how could I use my skills to to be in the market and to to work this with the stuff that I do like. So, OK and this is kind of a vicious circle like it has repeated itself every time. Okay. Job center like finding home or to find home, it’s really for foreigners is not easy, let alone like to be refugee. So yeah.

Um What has been good about being here?
Good hops like at least you when you are in Syria, you don’t even before the war, you don’t have life because I was programmed even before the war, because the war has broke out at the year that I did my graduation at the university. So I was just preparing myself to travel to the United Arab Emirates. So everyone in Syria is trying just to okay, this is my destiny to to leave this country and to leave. And this reminds me of when at the Cinema Paradiso in like what called the guy who was working. Have you seen the movie at the cinema? Like, leave this like Marco leave this country. It’s like hell. And he has lived. Okay, this is like because I was okay looking at and a watch this movie like 2010, OK, I will leave Syria and then like the the war started and. Yeah. So being here is good just because I’m safe, but I’ve lost a lot, especially like my English was better then because I’ve lost I’ve prepared my English to be like United Arab Emirates, like it’s being used there as as well as the Arabic. So being here, like trying to okay be start with the new language and everything was OK, don’t say anything about it. But the problem is the orientation. As I told you, it’s really hard to to get involved in the market without having this is Ausbildung and imagining myself just doing an Ausbildung and give up with “art”, an idea that I couldn’t imagine, you know, even imagine an. But yeah as I told you, again, physically, I’m good here, but not from.

Yeah, and can you describe how living here has made you feel?

How living here has made you feel?
Eh. I don’t know, but I remember the first time when I came to Halle, I had no contact back then and I was just sitting with lockers and bags looking for just shelter or a small room. But I remember when I manage it because, like someone who has döner restaurant help me, he was from Iraq and I opened the next day the the window and saw the people like, OK, talking with them. It was snow and gloomy. So the next day I was questioning myself fuck what I’m doing here. You know, I will get back. So I called my mother for instance, and OK, maybe I’m getting back. Why are you crazy? So it was hard. But I don’t know. Could you repeat the question because I lost.

How living here made you feel?
I feel like I’m living in a void, in a big vacuum, so. Trying to get out of it, but every time I’m finding myself in very bigger vacuum because I’m not free to travel, I’m not free to even if I were trouble, because it comes again, this is a financial situation. So I’m just counting the days. But I don’t know, but I feel like I’m swimming, but with no shore or coast nearby and I’m still swimming. But I don’t know and I ask myself if I could still swimming and if I would be able to swim the next day. And secure a lot of pressure, especially like when you have your your own issue here and you have this is kind of. Other responsibility that the family that you’ve already left and you do love and sometimes I don’t know, but it’s like a curse to be really as a. As a person or individual comes from. Oriental countries, they have this is kind of which I find sometimes it’s really good to be connected with your family, but sometimes it’s not realistic in this country, according to the. So you should sometimes. Trying to be selfish. Although that you don’t like to be selfish, you know, but at the same time, like, okay, how could. And be able to go farther with the selfish, so every time I talk to my family, they were like talking about the war and we have here my I have my own issue here. And this is kind of a situation really is really hard to to cope with, and to. And then you start questioning yourself, why me? Why? But, you know, like not not me. Because there is a lot of people from other countries. But this is kind of why me still growing every day and every day because sometimes you I don’t know.

And um how does being away from your family make it feel?
I think I already described what makes me feel, but 

We can we skip.

Yeah, and do you feel, uh, not belonging.
Yeah for sure?

And how um does it affect you?
It has really a tremendous negative effect, this is not belonging, so I’m right now, I don’t believe that I belong to this world anymore, you know, not to even to. Yeah. Some nihilism idea, I don’t know. And somehow it’s not nihilism I don’t wouldn’t describe it like this, but. The only place that I do. I would like to describe myself, belong to its the atelier, and this is the only place that I couldn’t find, although that I have an atelier. But it’s because it’s shitty, because the. It’s about money, again, because it’s when you are, like employee and Employee, so I am and living on the subsidies from the city, it’s hard to get yourself some materials to continue. And when you ask the city about having some maybe kind of loan or something just to be able to continue. And this this was like 2017, it’s not I’m not talking about this, but they would OK, there is no rules written rule and regulations like on the Constitution of not Constitution it’s like you don’t have the right to claim this kind of loan. But yeah, it’s this is idea or this is situation had took me out from that place that I, I do belong to. Yeah.

And, um, how does discrimination impact you? Do you face discrimination?
I face discrimination, not discrimination. But I would say dislike towards foreigner or refugees.

Doesn’t this dis-dislike uh end up with discrimination? Um If we could um describe it in this way, yeah, it it it was kind of discrimination, but uh I wouldn’t say that to be. Refusal, like in a society, it’s kind of. Hard.
Yeah, especially when it comes to relationships like, yeah, I told you a story like after getting. Yeah. It’s not discriminate. Yeah, oh, you know. 

We can skip any question if you want.
No but there is hidden discrimination even with the people, with good education and open minded, there is hidden still hidden and I could feel it, you know, because when you are in very alternative party and you get to know a very like a girl that I did like, and then after she thought that I’m Italian or something because the accent of mine but after that, when I told her that I’m Syrian I like his facial features has changed like immediately. What, so you could see it. You could feel it. It’s not kind of. Something you need to to do and act or OK to be a racist person, so it’s. But yeah, I’m not generalizing for sure that when we are talking about discrimination, we are talking about maybe this is my my own numbers and statistic, like 20 percent, something like this from the society in general. There are a lot of nice people that I was lucky just to meet and. 

Could you ever have imagined that you would have been able to handle the situation right now you are in?
Frankly, no because I, before the war, two years ago, like 2019, I was kind of not. Not spoiled in the family, but kind of the one who hadn’t imagined himself to. I need to get like to be a carpenter or like to try to learn this kind of craftship that maybe would help me in the future. So I was OK relying on art and nothing. OK, I’m just trying. My dream was to be an artist and if it comes to work, I could work in our field like as an animator because I’m good at comics and cartoons and all of this stuff, but as a side hobby. But it’s really like changed me a lot. I haven’t expected to be able to face because I know a lot of people from Syria, they couldn’t face it and they managed to get back to Syria again and they have them get killed at the border. A friend of mine. He couldn’t imagine because the financial situation in Lebanon, although that he know, he’s he was a very good artist. And despite of this fact, he got back to Syria and he got caught at the border and after two months, he got killed. So I don’t know if this is kind of. Out of all of these stories, like gave me kind of enhancement to be there or enhanced me to face all of these questions all of these. Difficulties here and obstacles. But every day I was questioning myself, could I continue or not, should I be. I know, I don’t know, but like a lot of time, like I found myself totally paralyzed, I couldn’t face it and started crying and after, like two hours worth of cry, like, OK, I should be, like, strong and face it, what else? You know. But in general, it’s tough. It’s tough because yeah, because it’s tough.

And do you think that you developed the ability to deal with this challenges? Or, did you have it already always?
And some of them, like some, I would say, inherited stuff. And some of them, like got involved, got developed and  but mostly like got involved because. By the way, I’m not a very open person like I am, I’m not talking about all of these stuff to people, because I the people around the. You have two choices, either like. Just putting all the cards on the table and see.The group or the people they would accept you and be or like not accept you they would be happy to talk to you today because the people are seeking just for. When you are telling a sad story, it’s not a good thing, it’s like if you have imagined, like someone who is laughing, so it’s contagious to laugh after, but someone who’s crying, you would like okay go you have this kind of empathy. But imagine we are like in a performance. Someone was crying and someone was laughing that people will like go to. It’s like not silly as it is, like it’s but it’s metaphorically, it means a lot. So trying to develop, it’s kind of be not very open person. And just leash my emotional trying to be very. Conservative about my issue, you know, I don’t know if I could describe it, so to speak. Yeah I don’t know. So it’s hard to describe, but yeah.

I know what you mean, and, uh, why did you leave your country?
And why did I? Why haven’t I? So it’s like Syria supposed to be a beautiful country, Syria is supposed to be a beautiful country, but I left my country because a bunch of assholes ruling the countries and a bunch of shitty countries, including Germany. So it’s Germany. Everyone knows that Western countries, they are sending a lot of weapons and especially like, OK, sending somehow and maybe I am I don’t know if I could say this, but. Because everyone in Syria has like to do something with Syria, with Syria, except the Syrian itself, like Turkey, Iran, Syria and not Syria and Russia and the United States, but not the Syrian himself. He couldn’t like. So, yeah, it’s like I told you, like even before the war, as a Syrian, you are programmed to leave this country, so. Yeah,.

And how did that make you feel at the time?
Make me feel what at the time of.

Yeah that the reasons that you had to leave and how you were feeling about it.
So angry just angry and angry and angry and uh I don’t know, but like nowadays, a lot of. The situation in Syria right now, maybe the the war is over in some of parts of Syria, but the economic effects after the war and the lackness of source resources and all of these stuff, the brush that every time the regime practicing on the people and blackmailing them or provoking them, I don’t know. But a lot of taxes, weird taxes and a lot of even there is kind of, they are trying to build a new rule. Like when you are a refugee, they would take all your assets and properties from you and they could buy them. But nowadays, a lot of young people yesterday I was reading at the rate of people who is committing suicide is between 18 and 30 is really like, wow, horrible, like every every day. There we have a lot of people. They are killing themselves.

Um, do you think about some events that you have been through, like, um, about your past?
Could we stop? 

Yes. Of course.

Um, do you think about, uh, the things that you that you have been experiencing before, often nowadays, like the times in Syria and.
Yeah, yeah, for sure. Yeah, I’m still every time with every step, I’m still comparing the situation and what could have been. Look like, you know. So if after if yeah.

And how do you feel, uh, when you think and compare?
Yeah, anguish and (not audible) like every sad and yeah.

And, um, that’s the situation you faced affect you today.
Oh, for sure. Absolutely. Like, I think even after 20 years like this, this kind of thing. Or, yeah, ten years that between Syria and Germany, they would affect me in a way. They reshaped me a I don’t know if. They reshaped me to be strong because the life is not easy. I don’t know if they shaped me to. Because sometimes after this is kind of bad experience that every Syrian got and I am among them, I would say some of my pureness. Have been caught, killed, you know, I remember the first explosion uh was in Kafar Sousah in Damascus um there is two provider like Vodafone or something, it was two provider cell phone companies in Syria and they were owned by the the cousin of the president. I’m pretty sure they made a lot of profits after this one explosion because all the students in Damascus, they got a call from their parents or relevance and asking about, are you OK? Are you good? So they made a lot of profits after one explosion and the explosion in comparison to the many explosions that would have been after that. It’s nothing, you know, but after like. Three months of the war, like the people got kind of. desensitized about, OK, we have a rocket. OK, walking, we have OK explosion, the people don’t have this empathy anymore or this is the kind of sensitivity or I don’t know, like. I couldn’t understand how could one look at someone who was bleeding? And just trying to flee or go or so it was happening in front of my eyes, you know, and I could have been killed once. By explosion was very near to me. And the seeing that I already that I saw it was. Yeah. So, yeah, it. For sure, like after. After leaving all this hell behind and thinking you are in the paradise finally and facing all of these problems. You could just imagine what the. What the person or what this is kind of individual could stand or hold, I don’t know, but, yeah. yep.

Um, what was your dream or dreams before?
To fill the life. To be. To walk around in a park and enjoying myself with uh greeny landscapes. Feeling the sun. OK, they are available here, someone would say, but um I couldn’t even look at them, you know, I couldn’t enjoy someone because the subconscious is really burdened with a lot of shitty stuff. Yeah.

Before leaving your home country, what would you describe as your strengths?
My family. Point.

And From this all experience is, um, has anything positive came out?
So maybe I would like answer you in a very silly way, like, OK, knowing new people and and having a lot of but? Not at all. Maybe. I’m not sure, but maybe they made me stronger, but what does it mean to be stronger in this way? It’s like it’s kind of is life, very ugly to be strong enough to face all of this stuff, so. From this point or this perspective, I would say not at all. If they did. Reshape need to be strong, so. To face this is kind of ugly situation because. Yeah, no one would experience this stuff. Except if he if one doesn’t come from this is from war area, you know. So this is bring us to this question is war normal to be strong to face it. So we are like an. Technically, in peacetime, we are not like during World War Two or, uh, or Vietnam War or uh Middle East War, they are over. So to face all of this stuff. And being from just 30 percent of the population of the is as it makes me question myself and sometimes questioning the if I did make the right option to, you know, questioning the butterfly effect what’s happen well why? Yeah, because I remember when I before the war, my father was kind of he had, like, kind of not enough money, but he was kind OK. So he has offered me just after getting the high school and before going to the university, he was offering me to study medicine in Ukraina and I refused. And I told him, no, I am going to be an artist and I will. This is my fate. You know, I don’t regret it because this is kind of lovely pain, you know, being an artist. But sometimes when you’re questioning yourself, why shit, why didn’t I? What’s happened to me, you know? So, yeah, it’s. I don’t know, it’s a little bit cynical. Yeah.

What are your hopes and dreams for future now?
To see my family again and to be able to move freely across the world, to have the end of this overthrown the president of Syria because he is the president of the Devils himself. And to find someone who really love. And she loves me back, but and she would accept the idea of not bringing a child to this fucking world. Um, yeah, so I have two options, two conditions loves me back, and not bringing a child. It doesn’t matter how, like financially I would be succeed or like how this is war is ugly And and we have a very, like, in Arabic literature, there is like a figure of a high thinker called Al-Ma’arri. And he was being asked no, he was. It has been written on his grave. This is what my father did to me and I didn’t do any harm to any person because he was refusing the idea of getting married and bringing children to this world, and this was like in middle age Middle Ages, so, yeah, I totally agree with that I am not uh Yeah, this is kind of disturbia but I don’t know. But this is kind of stuff that I even before the war, you know. Because it’s about an option, so if you are going to make it, you would ask this children but how this kid would you love to come and you are not able to ask him, so you should avoid it. So it’s not kind of this is very bad shit. And when I’m talking about it with people, they are OK good, because it’s not you know, it’s. It’s not you are not following the head or the stereotypes. Thoughts and yeah.

Is there anything you would like to add that might make people in Europe better understand the life of refugees here?
I would say just trying really to put themselves in their shoe, you know, and understand deeply the situation. Because understand deeply, it’s not like, OK, this is understand deeply that means we should move. And this is the difference between the people they are calling for, like to be. It’s like when. When the people they were patronizing the cause of. After Abraham Lincoln, including what’s called the guy. The first one that called. 

No and not Martin Luther King. Not mal-Malcolm X before, like the first one, I have.

James Baldwin.

James Baldwin.
No. No, he was considered like anyway, I had forgotten the name, but the people were gathering together like okay they were and most of them were white. And he was talking this is America and this is a very beautiful country we’re fought to have, and then he started directly to attack them and they were shocked because why we are with you were with your cause. But they he has attacked them with issue with like he has. This is kind of understanding the situation. You know, not being symp like or giving this kind of sympathy is different about understand the situation and being really active. So this is why he had attacked them. So I’m really asking the people just to put them literally and feeling the physical pain and the psychological pain and everything, and then not to try to go to sleep or like just sign a petition or something. No, like, OK, we should move and make. It’s not make it right, you know, like and the only right in ver in a democracy system and democratic countries just to protest and protest and demonstrate against any changing. Because we are not alone when you are. We are connected, and this is the thing that I do like about coronavirus. This is kind of stuff that had united us in a way we are not alone. The people that had got infected in China, they we have this is a reflection because we are already connected. And this is kind of this is the only thing that I do like about it, because he had kind of. He has created kind of a union between people we are not alone, we are connected and. We facing the same enemy. So. What’s happening in Syria, what’s happening in Iran, what’s happening in Afghanistan, all of these countries, they are not because at the end of the day, there’s no country at all. It’s like just names. There’s no border. It’s. We are the same, but we have this is kind of languages, which is every society has his own music, the language, but at the end of the day, we are humans. So to be free, that to be. Is the right for every person, every human being. And every animal as well. So, yeah you know, so we couldn’t just disturb too. I don’t want to involve in this, but yeah. So this is the message just to to feel it.

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.