Stories

Refugees should be send to counselling as soon as they arrive

I was raised in a middle class family in Syria. We are Sunni Muslims, but we are not really conservative, we are modern. I am the youngest child and got a lot of attention from my family, because they wanted to have a female in the house. I have four older brothers. I was living in a very good neighborhood in Damascus, a good social class. Even when the war began, it was safe. Not a lot of fighting or bombing happened in my neighborhood.

I studied journalism and worked at a newspaper for a couple of years, but then realized that this is not what I want. Therefore, I started working as a humanitarian worker. As the war continued, I felt unsafe as the general situation in Syria deteriorated. My route to work was not safe, mortars were landing every day, and a lot of incidents happened near me. I saw people dead, in pieces. Moreover, it was unsafe for humanitarian workers in Syria, they were perceived as agents of international powers. I was harassed regularly when crossing checkpoints due to my kind of work. I could not face my everyday fears anymore, I started having hyperventilation attacks, and I knew that when I had the chance to leave, I had to leave.

My fiancé knew what happened to me. At the time, he was working in Dubai as a software engineer but wanted to go to the Netherlands. So, he came to the Netherlands, applied for asylum, became a refugee and we got married. I came to the Netherlands in 2018 and discovered that he stole money from a bank in Dubai and was under a lot of debt. I was shocked. Apparently this is a trend with Syrians who are working in Dubai. They take a loan and then they leave and come to Europe. He told me that everyone is doing that. He was living with a friend and they were growing weed. He was an addict and tried to make me take cocaine with him, things he used to put in a spoon. He started hitting me when he he was under the influence, he started behaving in a very aggressive way.

I could not tell my family, I felt ashamed. I could not go to the police, even though I had marks on my body. Police for me is trauma. If I see a policeman, I will be so nervous that I will make them think that I did something. So, I reached out for help to one of my previous Syrian colleagues who was also living in the Netherlands, because I had no one else here, I had no one to speak to. I trusted this person, he is very religious and well established. He prays every day. He gave me an escape plan and told me that I can apply for asylum on my own. I thought that I could go to the refugee camp, but they did not receive me because I still had my old residency. So, I went to his place. He turned out to be a very bad person. Two days after I came there, he started sexually abusing me. He made me feel like this is something I also wanted, but I was not even divorced at the time. I was still a very lost person, I was not thinking clearly. I think I felt like I owed him because he helped me and gave me this plan to escape, staying at his place. He seemed very supportive and I was broke at the time. I had nothing. I did not take talk to anyone about it, because I thought this was my choice. He made me feel like it was my choice. Can you imagine?

Half a year later, I was able to go to a refugee camp. The interviews there were okay, but the interpreter was not. Because I lived in the Netherlands for a decent amount of time, I could pick up on the Dutch language. I asked: “can I speak English?” They said: “no, you have to use your mother tongue.” They had doubts about my origin. The interpreter was Iraqi and did not know my cultural background. He was not from the same place where I am from and should not be playing a cultural expert, but he was doing that anyway. Although he was a professional interpreter he was not directly translating, he was summarizing.

Because the Dutch government does not always provide interpreters for interviews, some women are being abused in the refugee camps. A woman told me that a man from the camp, also a refugee, went with her to help her with translation during an interview. She had to give him something back in return. The people who work in the refugee camps are aware of this, they are not stupid, but they ignore it. They do not have a solution. There are cars coming to the camps late at night, picking up women, sex trafficking. The only thing they say is: if you are not back in your room around ten, eleven, you cannot come back until the next day. What a joke! They just come back the next day and are abused at night.

I believe everyone is coming here with a trauma. They do facilitate accommodation, food, everything that is related to the physical aspect, but they do not make people connect with their feelings. Everyone who is coming here are damaged people. Everyone. They should be sent to counseling as soon as they arrive, they should be taken care of. Look at me, I am educated, but I was abused. I am not searching for help, because if I start going to therapy then I don’t know what is the consequence. I think you first have to feel safe enough. A house and a routine and people who know my worth, like colleagues, before I can start dealing with all the bad things that happened. Everything I went through is done and my mom always tells me that she wants me to find another relation and have children and all that, but I feel like I cannot start my own life. She wants me to be happy, but I cannot be happy. There is not much media attention anymore, because there are more pressing things, but it is not safe yet. ISIS is back. A couple of weeks ago, they started shooting at a bus filled with people, outside of Damascus. I feel like I cannot be happy because they are not happy. You know this feeling? I feel like I am guilty in a way.

So, I just ignore the stress, deny it and focus on whatever I am doing now, keep myself busy. I do not have a big network, I do not prefer to have a lot of people in my life. I am busy with the moment. That’s it. I try to take one step a day, I can not plan for the future. I focus on my work, things I can control. Cooking, work. I am working, even if I do not have to work. I am coming back from work to work. l am reading a lot. And I run three times a week. That helps.

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