“We left behind the war and the fear, to find safety and life”
Shalama, refugee from Syria, 36 years-old, father of four
Shalama, his 25-year-old wife, their 6-year-old son and their twin girls, arrived in Greece in 2016. During their journey, they were also “carrying” their son; the couple’s youngest son was finally born during their stay in the refugee camp of Kilkis.
Shalama, a constructor in the profession, narrates a beautiful life with a lot of work and rich wages in the house construction sector in Aleppo and Latakia. “Everything went well, I had my work and we lived happily with my family“, and then the war broke out. Gradually the work stopped, it became impossible for Shalama to travel from his village to places and at the end it was difficult for them to access necessities and medical care.
That was when the prosecutions began. Shalama has ten siblings living in different countries. His mother with one of his siblings remains in Syria, while his father lives in Turkey. He has lost traces of one of his brothers – he hasn’t seen him since 2011, when the country’s regime imprisoned him because of his opposition affiliations. Today, he is still looking for him, with the support of the Red Cross – he does not even know if his brother, a lawyer, is still alive.
The decision to flee away from the war was now the only alternative. Shalama could no longer tolerate his children’s reaction to the violence of war. “In every noise, the children were hiding under the table; I could not allow myself to live like this“.
The family crossed the mountains, hid in a Syrian village near the borders with Turkey, sometimes sleeping in a mosque, sometimes in the woods, waiting for the smugglers to keep their promises for a smooth trip; a trip that was never smooth. After two months, they managed to cross the borders. They remained for ten days in Turkey, and then, by paying a huge amount, boarded on an inflatable boat along with 60 other refugees, heading for Mytilene.
Next station, Edomeni, from where they believed – like thousands of other refugees – that they would leave for northern Europe. Dreams collapsed and the end of winter found them in the camp of Nea Kavala, Kilkis. Still, there, another dream came true; their little son was born.
Shalama did not struggle to communicate with the Greeks, because he has an advantage! He speaks Greek, which he learned in Greece while working in house construction from 2005 to 2007.
Since Shalama and his family are all together in Greece, he remembers strongly that his children were hiding or running in his arms during the 25th March parade when the war planes were in the air. “Suddenly I saw them running to hide and shout ‘Dad, Dad’”- each time I was trying to comfort them; my dream is to forget“.
Spring finds the family at Softex’s camp, in Thessaloniki, where they remained for almost six months. Then, they joined the UNHCR Relocation Program and the SolidarityNow Housing and Hosting Program. Today, they are hosted in the organization’s accommodation structure in Peania, waiting for their departure date in the coming days. The country of relocation? The Netherlands; and they are very happy about it: “I have fellow villagers there, but will it be hard? I don’t know. I am worried about not knowing the new language, worried that everything should be done from the scratch. But I don’t mind. We will make it. I really want kids to go to school and learn foreign languages. If you don’t speak a language, it is as if you’ve been left out”.
At the end, Shalama describes one of his dreams; “my boys will learn football, since I love it so much! I would love to see the Champions League final game in June, at Cardiff – I wish to be lucky enough to make this dream true!“.
*The Hosting Scheme Project Home for Hope is implemented by SolidarityNow with the support of UNHCR GREECE and EU funding.