Syrian refugees have sought asylum in Nottingham via the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme
This is the sailor
This is one of five islands off the coast of Tartus. Living on a small island is such a beautiful way to be. We would fish for our food each day. No air pollution. Everything healthy and fresh.
Since a peaceful protest for democratic reform turned into Civil War, Syria has been decimated. According to Shelterbox.org, one in four schools have been damaged, half of the hospitals no longer function, and millions of hectares of farmland have been destroyed, forcing half of the population to flee their homes. Some have arrived in Nottingham via the Vulnerable Persons Resettlement scheme (VPRS). Others through sheer will and determination.
We spoke to some of these people to put a face to the statistics, to remember ordinary people doing ordinary jobs and living an ordinary life were forced to leave their home. This is one of their stories. This is the sailor.
My name is Abdul and I lived in Arwad. This is one of five islands off the coast of Tartus. Living on a small island is such a beautiful way to be. We would fish for our food each day. No air pollution. Everything healthy and fresh. There were lots of cafes on the beach. We would sip coffee while dipping our feet in the water. Because I was the youngest, my dad would pick the flesh out for me so that I didn’t eat the bones. I was very spoiled.
Comic art panel from What is Coming
We spent our summers on the islands and the rest of the time working in Tartus. Tartus is a medium sized city with a mixture of religions. We all lived together peacefully. During Ramadan the Christians would make sure they didn’t eat in front of Muslims. When it was Easter we would join in their celebrations. The church and mosque were close to each other, as it should be. We respected each other. We were a solid community. We didn’t see each other as belonging to different religions or cultures, but when the war started people began to see each other differently. Bashar al-Assad’s government started this way of thinking, telling Christians, you are a minority. Now the city is made up of about 60% Alawites – Assad’s religion. Alawites are Sunni Muslims and divided into two groups: traditional Alawites and Murshid Alawites.
I worked in the port, inspecting goods as they were transported to ships, and monitoring hygiene. After gaining this experience I was due to travel to Egypt to train to be a sailor at an academy. Then the war happened.
I was blacklisted for refusing to join the military service. There was no way I would kill my brothers. Many of my friends were shot for refusing to join the military so I realised I had to escape. I stowed away on a ship that headed to Egypt and then India before returning back to Syria! I fled to Lebanon and then worked on more ships, eventually making my way through Algeria, Germany, Iran, Italy and Spain. There was always work to do and so I lived at sea in order to survive. Then when we arrived in England I had had enough and handed myself over to the police and applied for asylum. It was never my intention to come to England. I had just had enough by the time we arrived here.
Now I live in Nottingham which is one of the furthest places from the sea. But when the Pakistani community heard about my story, they took me to Skegness for the day. When I saw the sea, I couldn’t contain my joy. I ran to it so I could breathe in the smell, and then I tried to drink it, but fortunately someone stopped me before I made myself sick. It was like coming home seeing the ocean. I didn’t realise how much I missed it until I saw it before me.
The sailor spoke to James Walker on 29 April 2018 in Beeston, Nottingham. Maamon acted as translator.
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