‘Our home was Aleppo, where I had a job as a tailor, and a house. Life was good. After the war broke out we stayed in Aleppo for another 6 years, until the fighting got too bad. Our house was eventually completely destroyed, and we moved to the family house in Afrin. Within a few months Afrin had been invaded by Turkey, and there were bombs falling there as well. They bombed a big hole in the roof of our house, and bullets were falling everywhere, like rain. After less than a year there I decided we needed to leave, and crossed the border into Turkey.
In Turkey, I found a smuggler who could help the whole family get to Greece. The smuggler wanted 2000 Euros per person, which was too much. Eventually I found another one who wanted just 1200 for the whole family. There were a lot of smugglers, and lots of different prices. He took us to a place where we could cross into Greece over a river. We walked for an hour, and then got into a small boat. The water of the river was flowing so fast, I was afraid the family would die before getting to Greece. I thought our journey would end there. The boat was very small, and the smuggler said we couldn’t take the childrens’ bags, so they had no spare clothes. The clothes they were wearing soon got wet, and the weather was bad. There was snow. I gave my jacket to the kids, but then I also soon started shivering.
17/18 people were in the boat, and they all thought they were going to die. I sat down with Souad and Soultan (Suleimans daughter and niece) on either side of me, so I could put my legs over them to stop them falling overboard. They got in the boat at 1am. The boat was very small, and they couldn’t move. If you moved you might fall in the river. We spent 3 hours in that boat.
Souad had lost her shoes during the crossing, and arrived in Greece barefoot. She could only walk for short periods of time then needed carrying. I was very tired when I arrived in Greece, and had given up hope. The smuggler told me that on arriving in Greece someone would pick us up by car and take us to Thessaloniki. After 5 hours the man still hadn’t arrived. We tried to buy a bus ticket to go to Thessaloniki but the police arrested us. They put us all in a prison on the border for 5 days. The prison was very bad. No food was provided, and no mattresses, no blankets. We slept on bare concrete. Souad folded her hat as a pillow, and used her jacket as a blanket. Soultans feet and hands were cold, so she put her hat on her feet, and huddled over so that she could put her hands in there too.
We were so tired when I came to Greece. In Afrin, I knew that at any time either Daesh or Assads forces, or one of the Kurdish groups, could come and force me to fight for them. This happened to my father a few years ago, at the age of 64. We haven’t heard from him since. I came so that my kids could have a future. I heard that in Europe they respect mothers, kids, and animals, not like in Syria and Turkey. So I want my kids to have a life there.
My biggest worry is that my kids futures are lost, as Soultan can’t speak Arabic, and doesn’t speak much English. Soultan is 11 years old, and now she can finally go to school. She should have started going to school at 6 years old, but she didn’t, she just saw war. So she missed her childhood. But now in Greece she has started going to school, learning other languages. When I was 11 years old I could read and write Arabic. My kids can’t do that, because of the war.’
Suleiman and his wife both study English at Open Cultural Center, and his daughter and niece, Souad and Soultan, attend childrens’ classes/activities