#5YearsWeFled: The Beginning of a New Journey

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.

I ask the Egyptian man, who is the owner of this hotel? He says, sorry, but he doesn’t want anyone to know his name. He gave us standing orders to help Syrian refugees: You can spend the night here and we know you will take the train tomorrow—our boss knows the system. The train traffic to Germany is very busy, and many people have to stay one night in Vienna. He would know that many Syrian refugees would need a place to sleep, so this is a gift from him to them. I think to myself, I cannot imagine who this man is, but he is a wonderful man. Believe me. Really! I start to think, Vienna is wonderful. Maybe we should stay here. My wife wants to stay, too—but they say society is very closed here. Everyone says that it takes a long time for refugees to get permission to stay in Austria. It will be easier for us in Germany.

So after that, we take showers, eat lunch, go out to see Vienna, take photos—it is beautiful. We come back to the hotel, spend the night, wake up the next day, give back the keys, thank the people at the hotel, and try again to get the name of the owner. They refuse—they are very careful. The Egyptian man says, sorry, my friends, these are our conditions. He says, if you need anything, please tell us. I say, no thank you. He calls us a taxi. We take one last look: The hotel is very, very beautiful, and wow, there are many rich people staying there. Amazing.

After this, we take a train to Germany. We cross the border from Austria to Germany and arrive in a place called Deggendorf. The train stops and the German police come to meet us—they are good people. They tell us, please get out of the train. My wife and I want to go off on our own, but they stop us and put us on a special bus to a camp in Deggendorf. It is a small camp where you can stay the night, but you are not free, really, because you are not allowed to go outside the camp at night.

We spend the night there and then are put on a bus to the police station. There they give us papers that tell us what our next destination will be. So after we get the papers, we are told we should go to the camp near the police station. But I tell them I want to go to another place: to Hamburg, where our friends are living. They don’t want to hear anything about it; they say that the system is that we should go to where the papers tell us—to the camp in Deggendorf. But we could read between the lines: If we went to Hamburg, it was our business—but they didn’t want to know anything about it officially.

So we tried taking the train to Hamburg, but lost our way. We got to Frankfurt, but were unsure of where we were exactly. A nice German engineer started up a conversation with us, asking who we were and where we wanted to go. We explained. He said, oh dear, you are really going in completely the wrong direction. We are exhausted, so we are getting mixed up about where to go. He says, I will take you to the police station, we’ll tell them what has happened, and they will help you. He was a good man. He took us to the police and asked them to help us. The policeman there was very nice, but when he saw our papers, he said we really needed to go to back to Deggendorf. I explained about our friends in Hamburg, but he said, believe me, every place is Germany will be equally good for you. How you manage in Germany will be a matter of luck once you get settled.

It is 3 a.m. and very cold outside. The policeman says, ok, you can stay the night here in the police station. I don’t remember exactly where this was, but they were good to us. He gave us tea. They were very kind people—an older man, a woman, and a young man.

In the morning, we take the first train to Deggendorf. When we get there, I ask where the camp is. They tell us it is close to the police station. When we arrive at the camp, they tell us to stand in line. I am thinking we will be able to stay here. But suddenly they are handing us tickets—for what? To go to another city, they say. Oh my God! We have just come from Frankfurt, we have not slept for two days. I give up!

So we take the tickets and go to another big city to a major camp. So when we arrive there, they won’t let us check in—instead, they put us in a small room. I ask why, and they say because the chief is coming. This is at about 11 p.m. I tell the man there, can you tell me when I can sleep at least? He says, you should wait for the boss to arrive. Then we end up sleeping at a desk. They knock on the door and say, be ready—you will have to take a bus. I say, what? You told us that this is our new camp. They say, no, the orders say not this camp.

I give up, seriously. I surrender. I say, take us where you want—you want to take us to jail? Ok, no problem. So they take us to another place where they ask us questions about our health, where they take our papers and any proof of who we are. Then we stay there for about three hours. After that, they take about 35 of us—families, mostly—to a place that is like a hotel. We get a room. I tell them, oh my God, this is a good camp. If this is the camp where we can stay now, then I am happy. This is the first place I sleep in Germany.

We stay there for about two weeks. Then they transfer us to a smaller city, where we live for a couple of months before being sent back to the big city again.

This is not a normal life. But what choice do we have?

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.
Read part 11 of the series.
Read part 12 of the series.

Image: Photo: Hassan and Hannahbakar (L) Amrico of Syria show a picture of them on their mobile phone in their room at the accommodation for migrants "Spree Hotel" in Bautzen, Germany, March 24, 2016. The accommodation "Spree Hotel" is a former a four-star hotel and was turned into a home for 240 refugees by owner Peter Kilian Rausch in 2014. REUTERS/Ina Fassbender