Ghanem al-Hamwy

Interviewed in: Istanbul, Turkey

Date: September 16, 2015

Homs, Syria
Istanbul, Turkey

Ghanem waits at the courtyard of the mosque at Esenler bus terminal in Istanbul. He was part of a group of about 500 refugees who organized a demonstration demanding Turkish authorities to allow them to travel by land to the Greek border. They were stranded in the station for several days before being evicted by Turkish authorities. © Miguel Winograd

We left Syria on September 2012. We had traveled from Homs to Damascus, because the situation in Damascus was better than in Homs back then. And then when the revolution began, we had to leave. We were living in areas under opposition control and the government started to hit those areas.

When we reached the Jordanian border we discovered that the border crossings were closed. They didn't let us cross. They took us straight to al-Zaatari camp. After twenty days we met some smugglers who promised to get us a Jordanian sponsorship to leave the camp. We paid them and they took us out. We left the refugee camp and reached Amman. We spent 10 months trying to find a job and living from the savings we brought from Syria.

The problem in Jordan is that you can't work without a work permit. You have to apply to the government to get one, but it costs a lot of money. Even if you want to work under the table, the secret police is all around, and all they care about is following Syrians around and making sure they are not breaking the laws.

I want to ask you more about your journey from Syria and why you left Syria.

I left Syria on the 12th of September 2012.

Why did you leave?

One day the FSA bombed a tank on our street. The government was so angry that their tank got bombed that they started to shell all the area, all the houses nearby, including ours. I couldn't stay in the house. I was with my mom, my dad, and my little sister. We decided to leave right away. Our neighbor was a taxi driver, and I remember asking him to drive us away, just to take us away from it all. All we wanted was to be safe. The next thing I remember is that we were on the highway to Damascus.

How did you end up in Turkey?

When I heard that there were people planning to leave from Istanbul to Edirne [a Turkish town close to the Greek land border], I just booked my flight from Amman and came here. I don't see any future for Syrians in Jordan. The only thing I can say about Jordan is that it is like Syria but without the killing. There is no future, no job opportunities etc. The prices are really high and what you earn in a month is hardly enough to pay the rent. If you have a family, one person can't earn enough to sustain it.

How was your trip from Jordan to Istanbul?

I spent all the money I was able to save in Jordan on a ticket to Turkey, to Istanbul. I've been told that if you went from Istanbul to Edirne it will cost you nearly no money. This is my only hope to go to Europe because I can't save $4,000 dollars to pay a smuggler in Izmir. All the people there have enough money to pay the smugglers, but I don't have money. [Izmir is Turkey's third largest city and a hub for human smuggling.]

That's why I came here, I was really excited to go to Europe by land. I am really not able to pay to be smuggled by sea.


el-Hamwy gets emotional as he recounts his flight from Homs. © Miguel Winograd

And why did you choose Europe?

Even if I wasn't able to eat or drink there, at least I would be treated as a human being, which is enough. At least the people there are not going to catch onto my accent. And just because I say hello in a different way than the Jordanians, they will answer me and say hello back.

Are you referring to Jordan now?

Yes. And I don't want to be unfair by saying that 100% of Jordanians are like this. But 80% of Jordanians are. There are also people who help the Syrians and open their house to the Syrians, so it would be unfair to say that all Jordanians are like this. But 80% of the people make you feel like you came from Tel Aviv, not from Syria.

Do you remember any particular situation when you felt humiliated because you were Syrian?

Yeah, I remember one time when I was looking for a job. I walked inside the store and said, “I'm looking for a job, can you help me?” The man recognized my Syrian accent. He looked me in the eye and told me: “Syrians in particular, we don't want to have in our store.”

And this is the situation in general in Jordan. If you get into a fight, even if you are the victim, in the police station you will be treated as the criminal.

What are you going to remember about Syria?

I will only remember the destroyed buildings that I saw before I left Homs. I didn't lose any family members, except my dad, who died in Jordan because he was sick. But all my friends who I lived with don't exist anymore. And I'm not talking about friends who you meet last year. I'm talking about people who I've known since the beginning of school. Most of them died in the same month that I left Syria.I lost two of my best friends on the same month that I left. I decided to go to Europe because I knew that there is no way back to that country. We don't have anything left there. I'm not just saying that because I'm leaving to Europe. This is reality.

Why do you think that there is no turning back?

Because we have people who are supporting the government, and people who are supporting the opposition, and those people are not going to stop killing each other. After five years I discovered that we don’t want the government or the opposition, we just want to live together as a common people. At first we were angry with the government because they couldn't handle the demonstrations better. And the government is angry with us because our reaction was also destructive.

If you could do anything differently in 2011, what would you do?

I would spend 2011 kissing the soil of Homs until the day came when I had to leave Homs.