#5YearsWeFled: Help at Every Turn

This series is from interviews with the lawyer Ayman Jalwan. It highlights the difficult choice that Syrians face—dying in the war zone that Syria had become, or flee the land he loved. Last year, he and his wife said goodbye to their families and joined the wave of citizens leaving the country. First they had to make it to Turkey. Then they needed to cross the cold Mediterranean to Greece. After that, they would have to deal with human traffickers in Eastern Europe to reach one of the few nations willing to welcome them: Germany. In this blogs series, Ayman Jalwan explains the decision to leave, the trials he and his wife encountered along the way, and the consequences of their decision.

So I go back to this Serbian man Sharban and tell him, we trust you, we have made the decision not to go with these mafia people. We will wait until morning instead. But can you help us to find hotel—one that won’t ask us for papers—just for tonight? He said, yes, of course I will help you. I have a friend who has a place. It’s not a hotel, but a big room where you can sleep as a group with your bags. It’s safe. I told him, ok. I don’t know why I feel I can trust this man, but I do. When my instinct tells me that this someone is good, you can trust him—like with Fawzi in Turkey—then I follow it. My feeling is that this man is good. He knows we are refugees, that we have some money—I know that. My group said, you trust this man? I said yes, I don’t know why, but I do. They said, do you take responsibility for this decision? I told them, yes, I do.

So Sharban speaks with someone, and they take us to this big room. We all spend the night in the same room, but it’s very comfortable. The next day, we go to the owner of this place and tell him that we want to pay for the room. He says no, Sharban has paid for you already. I say, what? How much did he pay for the night? He said, about 10 euros per person. I say, ok, he has paid for us—I will pay him back. The man tells us, wait for Sharban, he is coming to get us. So when I see Sharban, I tell him that I have collected money from the group to pay him back, but he says, no—no, thank you. I say, what? He said, I don’t need your money. But I say, you can’t just pay money for us. He says, it’s no problem, I just want you and your friends to be safe. Yesterday you took a big risk with your lives. I said to him, who are you—why are helping? He said, I just want to help you.

I say, are you Muslim? He says, yes, and that it is his dream to go to Mecca on the Hajj. He didn’t look like someone who was very religious, someone who prays every day. He was a sporty, handsome man, and very young, only 22. His told us that he was a soccer player. He only wanted to help us because he knew about the suffering of the Syrian people: “So when I see you coming to Serbia, you are so close to making it to Europe, and yet you are about to make the mistake of going with these mafia people! Thank God I heard you talking with them, and thank God you trusted me. Believe me, you don’t know what it means to be in Serbia. It is dangerous.”

I tried again and again to give Sharban money for the hotel, but he refused to take it—he told me, please just give me your phone numbers so I can check in with you to make sure you are ok after you have left here. Then he called the officers he knew, and got us an exception so we didn’t have stand in line for hours at the center. You can’t imagine this line! People wait there for hours. The line is literally kilometers long, and you wait in the rain the whole time. So we went inside the center and got our papers. Then Sharban spoke with someone from the bus, and told us that everyone should be paying 10 euros so the driver would take us to border of Croatia. Sharban said, believe me, if you arrive in Croatia, everything will be easy. You will sleep in a camp there and the authorities will look after you.

So we say goodbye to him and thank him for everything he has done for us. We take the bus across the border, then we walk for about half an hour. My foot is injured, but there are emergency tents from the Red Cross, and they give me a bandage for it and some ibuprofen. They tell me to rest up and to try to take good care of it. The people there then take us to a special camp. We arrive at night, and we have no idea of how long we will be staying there. There are many big tents for all the refugees. They assign my group to a tent, and we go there—but oh my God, you can’t imagine the conditions there, the smells. I will tell you something, but you must forgive me. We see a man from Afghanistan in this tent: he wakes up from sleeping, and then just relieves himself right next to his bed. I say to the others, I will stay in the cold and the rain, but this? No.

One of the guards who is responsible for the tent asks us, what’s the problem? I said, this is the problem! He said, ok, I will make an exception for you and your friends, but don’t tell anyone. Follow me. He takes us to some big rooms and says, take this stuff here. I say, what is it? It’s a special tent, he says. It is easy to use — it opens automatically, and it is for five people, suitable for your group. You can put it up anyplace. I said, thank you! This tent, when you open it, it’s divided into several little “rooms.” I said, thank God, we have a clean place to sleep. So we used it for that one night.

The next day around 4 p.m., they take us in a bus across to a station and put us on a special train for refugees. It will take us about two hours to get to Hungary.

Ayman Jalwan, whose name has been changed to protect his identity, is a Syrian lawyer now living in Germany as a refugee. Interviews conducted by Claudine Weber-Hof.

Read part 1 of the series.
Read part 2 of the series.
Read part 3 of the series.
Read part 4 of the series.
Read part 5 of the series.
Read part 6 of the series.

Read part 7 of the series.
Read part 8 of the series.
Read part 9 of the series.

Read part 10 of the series.

Image: Photo: Migrants walk through a frozen field after crossing the border from Macedonia, near the village of Miratovac, Serbia, January 18, 2016. REUTERS/Marko Djurica