About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of Refugee Randa Awad

Randa Awad

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Photo and interview by:




Handan Tufan

I want to continue in my writing and to publish a lot of things,” says refugee Randa Awad (45). A freelance writer and mother of two, Randa is a Syrian-born Palestinian who fled conflict in her home country. About leaving Syria, she recounts: “You don’t know [if] you will return one day or not, it’s like something frozen in one part in my mind… You feel like the whole world, like as if they left you to fall.” She first went to Saudi Arabia in search of work, but felt it was “like a prison for women there…I don’t feel like I lived the life I wanted.” In 2016, Randa arrived in the Netherlands, where she now lives with her daughters in social housing. “After the journey, the difficulty started,” she says of the integration process. “I’m feeling still the name or the label ‘refugee’.” The past 18 months of isolation have been hard, but she has used the time to learn Dutch and pursue her dream of writing her story: “I can’t change it, so I have to make something beautiful out of it.”

Trigger Warning: Discrimination

full interview

Hello, Randa.

Uh, yeah, for beginning, what kind of house to live?
Uh, now? Here?

Yeah, yeah.
I live in, they call it Social House, uh, and I don’t know this type of house in English because I think flat, no?

Okay, we’ll see it later.

What this kind of house?
Yeah, a social house. Yeah, social house.

Okay. Uh, can you describe your, uh, your condition, uh, your, uhh, con-?

Condition, yeah.
Um, my condition? Social or in general?

Uhh, yes, I think social is better, yeah.
Social, mmhmm. Oh, it’s like a little bit difficult because I can’t summarize it too much, but I’ll try to put just the important, I like the important thing. My condition right now, like, struggling, like, is still struggling to find a way in Netherland. Umm… uh, like, uh, still, I’m feeling like still the name or the label ‘refugee’ or, uh, someone come from outside country, yeah, still I have it right now or, uh, stick to me until now. Although I have my status, I become like a citizen and I finished my inburgering (integration) but still not feeling, uh, maybe still not integrated the, in the society, maybe because of one year and half of Corona situation, also makes people like very detached from each other, so.

Yeah. Uh, who do you live with?
Uh, I live with my daughters, they are two daughters.

Okay, and how do you spend your time in the Netherland? Do you have any work?
Uh, no, right now I’m a freelance writer. Yeah, but this is not a job for, uh, living, yeah. Uh, for like make my hobbies because I have to write. So I spend my time right now learning Netherland de taal (the language) language and also writing and reading, writing a lot and I finish writing novel in Arabic, and a, a book of short stories in Arabic also, it will be like published next month.


How about your novel? Your life or?
Uh, yeah. The four years here in Netherland. Everything like as if I’m, I’m a camera and just carrying all these details that no one see that –

– inside us, I should say. From one place to another, such a thing.

Yeah. And what are some of time that’s, that you brings joy?
Uh, before Corona because now not a lot of joy. (laughs). Far from my hobbies, like writing and reading, working with theater group or being in a theater, yeah. That’s.

Yeah. Uhh, how has life been since you arrived in Europe?
Oh, it was like so complicated.

Which one is difficult? Which one is easy for you? Maybe you can –
Um, before and after you mean?

Really both of them until now was struggling.

I didn’t like reach a point like I find it, uh, easy life or such a thing. Maybe before I came to Netherlands, I was settled in a job in Gulf area because I left Syria due to the war. And there it was, like, settled but it was a kind of also like a prison for women there, because you are limited with the, the custody of man over women there. So I don’t feel like I lived the life I wanted. This is not me. Just I go to work and then return and having, uh, and I arrived and this maybe that make me survive there. But now still struggling because I spent like two years and half, and I should say five places, I should say, all over the Netherlands from north to south, from east to west, so. Within two years and half, it was like too much because you know people they leave, you leave to another place, then you have to adopt with the place, if you didn’t adopt, it’s like torturing yourself because you don’t know everything about this place. Also, this is important for settlement and feeling safe. And after that, I started with the language and struggling with I have to find work. And you have the feeling that you are lazy, you taking out uitkering and this is a very ugly feeling, yeah. It’s also kind of making me, I have like to do the next step: find job.

Yeah. And can you describe how living here has made you feeling?
In Netherland?

Yeah, in Netherland.
Yeah, it make me see the world differently, because always you have a different picture in your mind. This picture like, uh, created by media, especially by media, and sometimes also the things we read it. But when you come to real life, you see it yourself. You feel, you feel it differently. Yes, so. What is the question again?

“I’m feeling”.
Yeah. Yeah, that’s my feeling, that as if I’m exploring something, I didn’t know it. Something in you about Europe in general like not to just Netherland, especially Netherland because I’m living here.


Uh, do you have any experience about discrimination?
Yeah. (Laughs).

Can you describe?
Yeah, because when I came to Nederland, I don’t know the procedure of moving from one country to another one. And for, uh, you know, the Syrian like war and all my family members, just my father and mother in Syria. So each one went to another country and I commit in my mind their experience that there’s not asielzoekers (asylum seeker) or such a thing and when I came here, I find it like it was so difficult to experience. And one time when after like two months and half, I was in Wageningen in AZC (abbreviation for detention centre) and yeah, that was after two months and half, in another AZC. And in this AZC, they allow us like to go outside and for, in the weekend, they, people they start like to go and explore another places in Netherland. And we have like little money from COA the security, responsible for AZC. So I went with my two daughters and one Iraqi young man, he’s 16 years at that time, we went to Rotterdam. And I was like, I don’t know anything about Netherlands, just Amsterdam, Rotterdam I heard about before I came. So, um, in our return, when we return back from Rotterdam to Wageningen, we took the different route, we went to Arnhem, Arnhem, yeah another, another place. And there we discovered, oh, we are an island. We have like to get out of the train and return back to Wageningen.  And then, one controller, my daughter, she has a coffee and she spilt it on her hand and clothes and she wants to go to bathroom, so she check the card on check point and it gives like beep.

And she knows that she does something wrong because it’s for Wageningen and in Arnhem. So the security, they came directly and they ask her, “What, what are you doing?” And she explained to them, we don’t know how to speak Netherlands in English, that okay I want to go to bathroom to just clean my hand and we will, uh, now my mother waiting for me to go to Wageningen. And he checked the card and he saw that Wageningen and he becomes shouting and making a problem and, and he asked me, like, “You have to be now fine,” like a boete (fine). And I told him by chance, I have in my pocket like 70 euro and he wrote fifty for her and it’s around 70. And he let us pay this money and he gave like a bill and he come shouting and saying, “Why are you coming, going from one place to another place, you are in AZC,” and I told him. So it’s like a long story, we have this fight together.

And like suddenly around like five, six security with him and no one speak anything and he becomes saying, “Okay, show me your card.” I don’t have a card at that time, I don’t have what they call it… I.D. I have just a printed paper from AZC say that I’m vluchteling (Refugee) and I’m now in Wageningen. And when they see it, he become like shouting and cursing and I told him, “Please, stop it. We are not a liar, we are not a stealer. We are, our circumstances bring it, uh, us to here.” And, and he said, “Don’t speak, shut up,” and such a thing, “I will take you to the jail if you continue like that. Just pay the payment right now, the fine, and go away from my sight.” Such a thing. So I find it, what, strange. And then when I went to AZC and I told then they said he must not let you pay, because first time it’s for a new, like commer they, they forgive them or they make it free, so I find it so strange. Yeah.

Yeah, I’m sorry.
No, it’s okay.

And could you ever have imagined that you would be in this situation?
The discrimination?

Yeah, like this situation.
Oh, in general?

Uh, no. It’s not like that, because as I told you, I carried other people experience in other country, like, so it’s different from one country to another country. So and I learned from that, like, we have not, we have like to lower our expectations and not expect really in such a situation like, wait, what happened, yeah.

And do you think, do you think this situation make you, uh, strange?
In a mood or in, uh, strange for people?

Uh, general. Uh, general strange. We are now refugees and this is so difficult experience.
Yes, yeah.

What do you think about all this? Do you think the experience it make our strange?
Uh, make the other party, the …. the strange?

Yeah, yeah.
Mmm, not just… yeah, strange but in a way that I didn’t understand the situation on, like, I don’t know what happened, what will happen, it’s an ambiguous situation for me. For a long time especially, I didn’t take, like, my stuff. Yes, I start to, shortly, takes a long time. So, yeah, it makes it strange because also it’s limited for me at that time, I don’t like have communication it just with AZC people, who work in AZC and both of them, they are like and now I can see them differently, they are not Netherlanders or they didn’t like. So say, a singular story, I can’t apply it for all other people.

Yeah. And how was the Covid-19, times of Covid-19, how was for you?
Shall I say? It’s funny because for me, because I can’t change it, so I have like to make something beautiful out of it. For me it was like a chance, sorry for saying that, the chance to write the novel otherwise I will not write it.

Okay, yeah.
Because isolated from society, from people, from communication.

So it’s not perfect time, because it’s not perfect, but it’s the time to do something.

Yeah. Now about your past, why did you leave your country? Uh, what happened?
Uh, the war in Syria and I stuck in Gulf a year because I’m working there and there they didn’t in Saudi Arabias, not, yeah, especially because I got a job work there. And, uhh… and there, they didn’t consider us – even we are Arab country, we speak the same language and they know there is a war in Syria, and I’m originally from Palestine also, and there is a war there. And so the two places where I belong, they are in rest, and they didn’t consider it as a citizenship in this country or I have like rights to do something or for my daughter, they are not allowed if they grow up there just to study in university, even in governmental school. I put them in international school. So it was like a kind of, also very difficult situation. So I quit my job because I can’t stand it and I can’t write freely also, because people they don’t, they don’t like what I wrote about women, about freedom, or such a thing. And so that’s the reason, yeah.

Uh, how did you, how did, uh, make you feeling at the time that you leave your country? (Coughs.) Sorry.
No problem, do you want water? Uh, the feeling, really, it’s like, very difficult, very strange, because you don’t know that you will return one day or not, it’s like something frozen in one part in my mind and compare it to the feeling of my grandfather, he’s died since, long time. But he always remembered how he left Palestine and he thought that okay, six months then we would return, one year, two year, then like he spent 60 years and, yeah, 50 years when he died, he was out of Palestine. So I said in my mind, the scenario will be repeated like that or, yeah, it’s like sometimes scary, sometimes I try, like, to ignore it.

Yeah. How was the journey to Europe? Do you have any experience in the journey?

Oh, okay, uhh… You know, my, my journey was so like, because I get a visa to, to Europe because I came from – I guess, it’s like long story, it’s, I take it after years and years. And so it’s an airplane, so it’s not like, difficult. Yeah.

Yeah. Not difficult your journey?
No, it’s easy. After the journey the difficulty started

Yeah, of course. Yeah. And do you, uh, you leave it in the war and, yeah, do you have any, uh, remember about the war?
In Syria?

Yeah, in Syria.
Uh, really when I left, it was the beginning and it wasn’t in Damascus, in southern of Syria and Dera the place. So, I didn’t, I haven’t, I didn’t, like, witness something face to face there, but my family, even my brother and sister, who now live in Sweden and Spain, they left because I went to Gulf area for work and they stayed there and like I’m with a contact with them, so they saw a lot, but for me, my mission at that time, because I hear from them, I saw from social media and I write a lot of stories about that, but yeah.

Uh, do you, now do you have any impact about the situation?
In Syria?

Yeah, in Syria.
Yeah, um… The impact like, you feel like the whole world, like as if they left you to fall and, and they and it’s like the twenty-one centuries and we have all these social media, I can like access all information in my mobile. Not like previously, we see one channel on TV, we have like two – we have like two, two newspaper or three – and we have to hear them and believe what they say, whether it’s true or not. But now we must be more aware, we must be. But I see like the feeling it’s frustrating.

Yeah. Where do you find, uh, sport? What do you think about, yeah?
In the Netherlands?

Yeah, in Netherlands.
Uh, yeah, I think they are sportive people, they like sport. I’m lucky that Juliana Park is dichtbij (nearby). I go for a walk there. Uh, yeah, so.

But, uh, I mean, support.
Oh, support. I thought sport, sorry.

Yeah, yeah. No, no, no.
Uh, support, uh… yeah, I find it really when I was in AZC, I have, there is a lot of organization and those organization, they are so supportive for refugee, because they find for them ways like to communicate with other people and there is one organization and they’re called Welcome to Utrecht. And those, I ask them, I want like to communicate with people who have interest in literature or in arts in general, and they connect me to voorkamer (frontroom – a place where refugees and asylum seekers can visit) in Lombok, here in Utrecht and to other organization also. And, uh, to, um, Zina theater for name redacted yeah, and I find support. They support me, they wrote recommendation letter to IND signed by names redacted and yeah, and she attended with me also one of investigation.

Yeah. So you get support with feminist women, yeah?
Yeah, with feminists and who are related to theater and arts.


Wow, fine.
Yeah, and also – sorry, not to miss it – and also one writer, she was supporter, she wrote also recommendation letter, because she work in an PEN International from World PEN Amsterdam, and she visited me even in AZC when I get the rejection, uh, decision. Yeah, and she was so supportive, but yeah.

And, uh, before the war, what do you, what’s your, what is your dream before the war? And I want to, uh, the, uh, only one sentence. For example, “Before the war. My dream was dun dun dun” in one sentence, please.
Yeah, maybe, before the war, I want to get a house next to my family, parents. And live all around each other.

And that’s it. 

And when you were leaving your home, what was your dream for the future? Uh, one sentence.
Umm, yeah. I want like to continue in my writing and to publish a lot of things, books.

Okay. Uh, before leaving your home country, what would you describe as your character, uh, characters? Are you in your host country, stranger, uh, in Netherlands, you’re a stranger? I don’t know.
Uh… okay, sorry. Before leaving your home country, would you describe as, uh, stranger? No, I wouldn’t describe a stranger, but some rules made me feel – the governmental rules – that, yeah, you are, you are not Syrian. And here in Netherlands, before I took my status, one hundred percent stranger.

Okay, wow.
Yeah really, because all people even now they are in AZC, they are stuck for five, nine, 10 years. They are kept like a stranger and they, and they treated differently than when you have your status, when you would come before when you become a citizen, yeah. Because not a lot for you like to study language which is… language is very important for communication.

That allowed you to go like outside the country or to leave the AZC because you have to give a fingerprint each week, each Thursday or other day, I don’t know, no. And, uh, yes, so you feel you are a stranger and the rules before becoming citizenship really, really it’s copy paste from our rules there: “Don’t speak,” they told you, not allowed to argue, not allowed to call IND, “How you dare to call IND?” such a things.

Yeah, so it’s like oppressive all the time.

Okay, yeah.
And yeah, you are also under their eyes, they watch you all the time.

Yeah, I understand you.
But after that, no, it’s different.

Okay, and what… Do you have any dreams about future now?
Yeah. (Laughs).

Can you one sentence like about?
I wish my novel to be translated either to Netherland or other language, because it’s important.

For those four years.

Yeah and, um, I’m really happy to, uh, make your interview.
Thank you.

But for next question, do you have any sentence, uh, against, uh, people that racist in Europe?
Mmm… It’s like… I think they have like, to read more, to find more other resources than what they see it or they build their point of view and try to to put themselves into these people’s situation. And, and remember, like before in the Second World War, they have the same situation, their grandmother and father, they lived such a thing.

Thank you very much, Randa.

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.