Age 25
From: Damascus, Syria

Before the war, I had a normal life in Syria, it was very comfortable. In my family we are four sisters and one brother. We are really close, always making fun of each other. Now, my brother is in Germany, one sister is in Austria, I am in Athens, and the rest are in Iraq.

It all started after the demonstrations, when the people started shooting against the government forces and the government started shooting at the people. The army came to the city and built a hot point to check the people. It was a huge mess. You couldn’t go anywhere in Damascus– there were tons of people everywhere, waiting at the checkpoints.

(Audio excerpt from Nivin’s interview)

I couldn’t stay in Damascus because I have health issues and I am sensitive to loud noises, so we all decided to leave.

We left from Damascus to the northeast part of Syria and started to cross the border into Iraq. It was a difficult journey. There was fighting on both sides of the road. At the checkpoint, they took the young men and checked their papers to see who is running away from the army and hit them in front of their families. The weather near the Syrian/Iraqi border was sometimes hot and sometimes cold. We were always afraid that they would catch us and send us back to Syria or Iraq. But we were able to bribe the soldiers with money that we had brought with us.

We made it to Kurdistan, in the northern part of Iraq. Because we are Kurdish, it’s the safest place for us. But my health problem needed professional medical care that I couldn’t get in Iraq, so I decided to continue on to Greece.

I went with my sister by car to the Turkish border, and we waited there for the smuggler. Then we walked for five hours with the smuggler through the mountains. I was exhausted and afraid. After five hours, we finally arrived to a village on the Turkish side of the border. The Turkish army was standing there, waiting for us. They started shooting.

We got away and the smuggler brought us to a house with a lot of other people who wanted to travel to Izmir, the part of Turkey where the boats leave from Turkey to Greece. It was terrible in that house. There were so many people that you couldn’t sleep or do anything there. He kept telling us we would leave in two hours, three hours, the next day, the next morning. He was a liar. He also said it would cost $300 but in the end, when he finally did take us, we had to pay over 1,000 Euros.

The bus ride to Izmir took 45 hours. It was one straight trip– though we did stop a few times to eat. When we arrived in Izmir, my sister and I went to a cousin of ours who lived in Izmir and rested for 8 days. Then we called a smuggler and arranged to take a boat across the sea to Greece. The smuggler said the trip would take just one hour. The smuggler also said there would be 40 people in the boat– but in the end there were 70 or 80 people.  There was no space– everyone was sitting on top of everyone. We all threw our bags overboard and everyone was screaming and crying. And then the boat started leaking. Everyone went crazy and the boat almost turned over– more because of the people going crazy than the hole in the boat. This was the time throughout the whole journey that I was most afraid for my life.

We called the Greek police and they came to save us before we all drowned. Once we saw them, we felt safe. They were nice to us and took us on the police boat to Mytellini. My uncle, who had joined us for the boat trip, was immediately taken to the emergency room because of his heart problems.

I registered in the relocation program on the island. Then I took the ferry to Athens. My brother called me from Germany and told me to try to cross the border and not to wait for the relocation program. So I went to the Greek border with Macedonia with three sisters whom I had met on the island. We took the bus to Macedonia. Three or four hours away from the border, the bus stopped at a rest-stop along the road. While we were there, the police told the bus driver that he couldn’t continue to Macedonia because the borders were closed. The driver drove back to Athens and we stayed there. They gave us food, but there was nowhere to sleep– if you had clothes with you, you would put them on the ground and sleep on them, or you would sleep in the chairs. We stayed there for five days and then we decided to start walking to Macedonia. We walked for 9 hours. Then the police, who had been following us the entire time, stopped us. They told us it was not a safe area, there were mafia people there.

So they sent buses and they took us back to the same rest-stop we had started from.

Then they brought more buses and took us to another building. And after two days, other buses took us to a military camp near Idomeni.

The the next day we took a taxi to the border, and registered for some kind of waiting list for Macedonia, in case they would open the borders. Then we went back and waited at the military camp for 15 days.

The military camp was terrible. Just one big tent and a lot of stones. There were mosquitos, spiders, and all kinds of small animals.

We slept four people in a small tent meant for one person and we were always fighting– move over I want to sleep, no I want to sleep. It was me and the three sisters that I had met on the island. We couldn’t take showers. There were a lot of diseases there. I was afraid.

Then it started raining and the water came into our tent. We were just sitting and almost swimming in the water. We all started crying then. It was really hard.

I was there for 15 days and then I came back to Athens to re-register in the relocation program. When I went to the relocation program the second time, they didn’t have any of my information on file. They are a terrible organization. All they like to do is drink coffee.They put me in a hotel for 45 days and then they brought me to an apartment with other women in the program. I’m trying to figure out what to do now. Maybe I will try to cross the border again.

I miss my friends and the life in Syria.  I have four friends, we’ve known each other forever. We had amazing times before the war. We lived in the same city. I miss going with my friends to the gardens and restaurants next to the highway in Damascus. I miss sitting in the garden at the top of the mountain, with nargila and the smells of Damascus. You smell the smell of Jasmine. Every time I smell Jasmine, it reminds me of this feeling. If you sit on the mountain you immediately feel comfortable and relaxed.

I want to become a nurse. I love to help and care for people. At home, I would always take care of anyone who got sick in my family. I would bring them medicine, make them tea, and stay with them all night. I can’t sleep if someone in my family is sick.

I feel sorry that I wasn’t able to do what I had planned to do. I had planned to get somewhere to a better life and to bring my family to live with me, but I wasn’t able to.

I hope that one day I will be able to settle down in a country and to bring my family and to live safely and comfortably. My uncle, who is here in Athens, said he will watch over me. He says he will help me and stay beside me. But he is going to France next week.

How do I feel about being here alone? It’s like something is killing me from inside.

This was the first time I had traveled by myself. It was difficult. I was afraid. But if I did it once, then I can do it again in the future. This has all made me much stronger.


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