Age: 45 years old

Interviewed in: Stockholm, Sweden

Date: September 16, 2015

Al-Malikiyah, Syria
Stockholm, Sweden

Hanibal in his tailor shop in Stockholm. © Miguel Winograd

My name is Hanibal Moad. I am 45 years old. I have three children. I was born in Syria, in al-Malikiyah. It's close to the border with Iraq and Turkey.

How old where you when you left Syria?

19 years.

What is your strongest memory of your life in Syria?

The strongest memory is of course the childhood, its something you can never forget. Going to school, I had so many friends, and my family. I had all my relatives there.

What do you miss the most?

I don't know, it's been such a long time now, and I have my family here. Last time I visited, the country felt different. You miss your country and you feel like home. Even though I've lived here for so many years, I still don't have that same feeling unfortunately.

When was the last time you were there?


Now you can't go?

No, no. I can't go to Syria. I have to have a confirmation from the Ministry of Defense. I apply here at the Syrian embassy and then I can visit for 3 months. This is something we got after Bashar Assad became president. When was that? 10 or 15 years ago. Since then we were able to go back, those of us who never did our military service, because I never did.

Can you tell me how you decided to travel to Sweden?

First, my brother didn't sign up for military service, so he left for Lebanon. He deserted from the army so to speak. He left for Lebanon, and then there was war there. At the time, my aunt lived there, and my sister as well, so when the war started they moved here. They received a permit from the UN, there were some circumstances, so they came to Sweden. So that's why we're here, I came here because I already had family here.

Where you happy when you came? Where you scared? How did you imagine Sweden?

I was happy when I first came. After a year it started getting harder. It's not so easy for immigrants. Especially since I was 18 and 19 years old. I started to understand life. You know, looking for a job and so, it felt harder than I imagined. You think you're reaching paradise, but that's not reality. You're arriving in a completely different world, a totally different country, a totally different language. I don't know, the people I don't think matter that much. A totally different climate.


Hanibal draws a map of Syria to show the city where he was born, Al-Malikiya, close to the Turkish and Iraqi borders. He comes from an Assyrian community, an ancient Christian ethnic group, a large proportion of which has migrated to Sweden. © Miguel Winograd

Before you came, where you working or studying?

I was studying. I wanted to go to University like every one else. I wanted to be a Civil Engineer. My father wanted us to get an education, I have a sibling who's a Chief Physician here in Sweden, in Södertälje. My older brother is an oil field engineer. My father didn't have an education, so he wanted us to have one. All my friends as well, they wanted to educate themselves.

Your father also came to Sweden?

He came to visit for one month 1986. He didn't want to live here

How was the trip back then?

It's a bit sensitive this. I went from Syria to Karachi, and then to the Maldives, and there someone helped me to reach Sweden.

But Maldives to Sweden is quite the journey?


© Miguel Winograd

I took an airplane to Sri Lanka. Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka. From there I went to the Netherlands and then transit to Sweden.

Did you have permission to come to Sweden at that time?

No, no. Nothing like that.

So you had to pay a smuggler, do you remember how much you had to pay?

Yes, but I wasn't the one who paid, it was my brother, so I don't know.

How was the bureaucratic process once you arrived?

I applied for asylum as soon as I arrived. My mother already had a residence permit, so it took a year and a half.

When you first arrived, did you think you were going to return?

No, no. It wouldn't work to go back. My passport was lost, and you can't go to Syria without a passport, or you'll never leave.

I wanted to study, so I applied to be excused from military service before I came. When I arrived here, my study permit had expired, which means that I had escaped military service. My name is on a list. Even if I had to live in hell here, I wouldn't go back at that time.

What was your impression of Swedish people when you reached Sweden?

In school, I had a lot of fun. When I came to school I was surprised, I had never been fed in school where I'm from, so I felt well received, I felt welcomed. In those days, we lived in Alby. I went to elementary school. They gave us food also. There weren't too many immigrants there. We studied for three hours, then they fed us, and then we studied again. They also gave us money grants, from the immigration office. So it felt good. Sweden in that way is the best country in the world, when speaking of refugees. I know. Even now.

Did you meet your wife in Sweden or in Syria?

We met here. I met her brother, he was a friend, and that is how I met her.

Were there Assyrian communities when you arrived?

Yes, there were many.

When did they start to arrive?

They started arriving 1975, I think. We had a man in the family who was a priest. He was related to my father. He lived in Iraq, and then he moved to Lebanon in 1968. There were also Turks here. Syrians and Turks, were the ones that brought him here from Lebanon.

So there were people here. But people came from Lebanon when there was a war there. You know Assyrians, they moved from Turkey during the First World War, when the Ottoman Empire fell, they killed a lot of Assyrians, 600 000 Assyrians and Armenians. So they have moved to Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Palestine, I mean this was a long time ago.

My father was born in Turkey for example. He was two years old when he moved to Syria. He had to because they killed so many people.

Can you talk a little bit about the Assyrian community? How is the relationship between Muslims and Christians?

During the Assad regime, there where no internal conflicts, everyone had to suffer. It was a dictator running the country, so everyone had to obey. So we were well off, us Christians.

Your children were born in the 90s, here in Stockholm. Do they speak Arabic?

Evelina and Vanessa only speak Swedish, Sebastian can speak Arabic and Swedish. Sebastian is 10, Evelina is 3 and a half and Vanessa 5 and a half.

What do you think of the new wave of migration that is coming here? Have you interacted with it at all? Have you noticed it personally?

Unfortunately I haven't had much contact myself. But my wife is staying active trying to support Syrians arriving, she helps out at daycare, and she's brought clothes and food to meet new arrivals.

I hear about it all the time in the news on the radio and the TV. I'm a person that works a lot, 6 days a week. And the limited spare time I have over, I spend with my children and my family.

But I suffer nonetheless. We are all sad about what is happening.


© Miguel Winograd