About Refugees, By Refugees

Portrait of refugee Sarah sitting on a straw chair with her hands on top of her folded legs

Sarah Z

Pictures taken in:



Photo and interview by:




Abdalah Abdelhalim

“My dream is to complete my studies, work and do something good,” says Sarah Z (32), who left her home in Syria due to a lack of safety and freedom. She traveled on foot through Turkey and Greece to seek asylum in the Netherlands, feeling unsafe and unstable as she had no money or papers: “It was a journey full of fear and horror.” The camp she lives in put huge psychological pressure on her, and she felt physically and mentally drained before gaining her residence permit. She also misses her family, her source of confidence back home: “After I left Syria, my confidence was shaken but the presence of friends always motivated me. The fact I had friends around me and they were like a family, I was always confident that I will be something and life goes on.” Today, Sarah feels happy and grateful to be in a place that protects and supports her. “I have a big responsibility. I have to be successful and fulfill my ambition. I want to do it for myself, my community and my family in Syria.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Alright, what is your current status? Do you work? Where and with whom do you live?
Currently, I live in a camp in Dronten. I got my residence in March waiting for the procedure to be completed so I can live in a house. I live with two people. I have been living in the camp for around a year and eight months so we have lived with many different people from different environments, different types of mentalities, patterns of thinking and behavior alongside all the stress we experienced, there was a huge psychological pressure on us.

How do you spend your time?
I am currently studying and doing volunteering in second-hand, which is located in the nearby city and is also volunteering with an association that supports activities with Dutch community individuals. Sometimes I meet some friends here in camp as well as outside the camp.

What are the things that make you happy?
In fact, anything fun, anything that entertains me like reading a book, painting, going on a picnic, doing something good for me or for others, studying and feeling stable. That we have been deprived of stability since a long time, especially that stability means a lot to me.

How was your life when you first arrived in the Netherlands? What were the positive and negative aspects?
When I arrived in Holland, I was extremely happy because I thought that I finally arrived in a country that will help me create a future and prove myself. After that, I went through difficulties and a long period of waiting alongside many problems.

So this was the negative aspect?
Yes, it affected my mental health, in terms of problems and waiting. I went through a breakup at that time as well. It was a difficult period, I mean.

How does being away from your family and your home feel?
Actually, sometimes I feel sad and I miss my family members. But I’m also happy because I know they are happy knowing that I am in the right place, and that makes them feel relieved about me and so am I because I am able to help them with something. They are in Syria. The country’s situation is very difficult there, my father is an ex-detainee which makes things even harder for them. What hurts me the most is the fact that my younger sister and brother aren’t here with me, they are in Syria. In general, I feel responsible towards my family, but especially my younger sister and brother, I would love to have them with me. I mean, I feel that this country is suitable for them to complete their studies and live freely, a life as they wish.

How does the feeling of not belonging affect you? Can you describe it?
In fact, the feeling of not belonging, I felt the most in Syria. When I was in Syria, I lived in a restricted society, they view women as tools, a tool for childbearing. Women were marginalized and treated as commodities, I used to feel narrowed down and I have won my freedom now, I feel free and independent so the feeling of not belonging is less here. Dutch people are nice, law here is a law that supports freedom. People are free with their beliefs and actions, as long as they do not harm others, as long as it does not harm others. Which is so good for me, I feel a sense of belonging.

Have you ever imagined dealing with such a situation?
Which situation exactly?

Feeling a sense of belonging to a country.
Oh yes, I have always dreamed of that. My father was a teacher in France for a while. I’m the oldest at home, he raised me on certain morals, he raised me on independence and freedom. I used to feel that I do not belong to Syria and I dreamt of going to a country that takes me as I am with all my ideas and things I like to do, when I want draw or do something, I want to express myself and I am sure that this country accepts and supports me so I can create and offer something.

See how corona affects your daily life and mood?
In fact, we didn’t feel its effect that much, at least for me, people with COVID were isolated far away from us here in the camp but when I went out and there was no job, we were just waiting. I mean, it affected us in terms of time, it made us wait more, that was what tired me.

How do you feel about living here?
Honestly, how I feel about living here in the camp, I think because I took my residence and waited to complete the procedures so I can leave and get a house, I feel a sense of comfort. But before I used to physically and mentally drained.

Why did you leave your country?
Because of security issues. Honestly, as well as the society’s pressure, I wanted to be independent and free. Society narrowed me down a lot. At the same time, the government there, Bashar al-Assad’s government, is autocratic. For them, freedom is meaningless. Then there was some sort of security pressure, security forces started asking about me, even in my workplace. So I had to leave Syria.

How was your trip to the Netherlands, and did you have any  particularly difficult experience you’d like to share?
In fact, it was a long journey to the Netherlands because I left Syria in 2017. I stayed in Turkey for two years, and in 2019 I decided to continue my trip to the Netherlands. Yes, it was difficult and there were many bad conditions and circumstances. For example, at the time I was working in Turkey, I stayed there without any official papers so it was easy for anyone to steal my rights and my salary. There was no one to protect me. No one to support me and retrieve my rights. I felt totally unsafe and unstable because I lived in constant worry of losing my job or my place since I always stayed in shared housing, and it happened once, I got kicked out of the place, in which I rented a bed only, because of complaints from neighbors about the house. As for Greece, the worst thing was going from Syria to Turkey because it was in an illegal way, I had to cross the border illegally there was a high risk.

By foot?
Yes, by feet from Syria to Turkey for two days, that’s without the previous failed attempts. Then from Turkey to Greece also by foot, it was a journey full of fear and horror. In Greece, we slept on the street because we did not have any money to book a hotel or any place to sleep.

And from Greece to the Netherlands?
I took a plane from Greece to the Netherlands also illegally. I bought a stolen passport.

Did you ever imagine that you can deal with such a situation? and do you think about those events a lot?
Actually, at the time I went to Turkey, leaving Syria traumatized, all the fear and stress that affected me deeply, the events I experienced made me wait for two years to be able to continue. I had a friend that made me feel a bit safe and we continued the way together.

What was your dream before you left Syria? Before you fled your home and before the war
I used to dream of finishing my studies and work in a comfortable place that suits my way of thinking and style.

And how are you currently feeling?
Currently, I am happy and grateful that I managed to reach here in a country that protects me and provides me with support. As for me, I have a big responsibility. I have to be successful and fulfill my ambition. I want to do it for myself, my community and my family in Syria. So they can live in more comfort and be happy for me.

What’s your dream for the future.
My dream is to complete my studies, work and do something good, I mean, in my working life and to keep learning things.

Before you left Syria, what were strengths? Did you keep them? If not, why?
Honestly, my confidence and the presence of my family, it gave some kind of safety which made me more confident. After I left Syria, my confidence was shaken but the presence of friends always motivated me. The fact I had friends around me and they were like a family, I was always confident that I will be something and life goes on. “What goes around comes around.” I always thought about this and kept going, because I am alone and I must help myself because no one would do that. That’s how I used to console myself.

What are your dreams and hopes for the future?
Actually, you may laugh if I told you. All I wish for is peace, inner peace for myself, my family and to all people, I really hope all the bad would stay away from me, I do not want to experience bad or horrifying things anymore, I don’t want to go through all the terrible circumstances, I don’t even want to see bad things from people towards me. I just wish to live in more peace and stability.

I really appreciate your answer. Is there anything you’d like to add that may help others understand the life of refugees more?
Yes. I would say that living in the camp is temporary, and it is nothing like the Dutch society. We should go outside and interact with Dutch people, if it is through volunteering or organizations, of course, studying the language is crucial as a first step towards that. We came to this country from different environments so everybody is expected to respect the personal life freedom of others.

Thank you very much for 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.