‘I dream of a job, a school, a home’

The testimony of a young refugee from Kobane struggling to survive in Turkey.

It's been a startling and disappointing journey that has made us realise that refugees have no refuge, says Ali [AFP]

Hi, my name is Huseyn Ali and I am from Kobane.

I am 18 years old. I had to abandon my education when I was forced to escape from Syria to Turkey. My family is one of the earliest Kobane migrants to Turkey. We came here in early 2014 in search of a new life that could spare us from any political affiliation and most importantly provide us with stability.

When we were moving I thought I would find a job in Turkey and once my family is stable, I would go back to studying. But so far, it’s been extremely tough to do so.

It wasn’t easy in Kobane for the last few years either. My father had been killed by political rebels three years ago, although we couldn’t find out who exactly killed him. My family had to improvise immediately after his death and our mother opened a small shop where she sold food to make enough money to raise us. We are seven siblings and all of us went to school at the time.

The plight of war refugees in Europe

After my father’s death, we all divided our time between school and work to help our mother as much as we could. Recently when ISIL advanced towards Kobane, it exacerbated the political situation in the city. Everyone was forced to side with the Kurdish rebels who were the self-appointed saviours of Kobane.

My family are simple people, who are not interested in politics. We did not want to get affected by the chaos. We suffered financially because of the fighting. None of us wanted to join the fight or support anyone’s politics. We just wanted safety and the opportunity to continue our education and pursue our goals. Stability for our family, this is the most important for us.

When ISIL started attacking the region of Kobane from all sides, people started leaving the villages and coming to the city which borders Turkey. Kobane is a huge state with hundreds of villages. Many villagers who remained in their homes were slaughtered if they did not submit to ISIL. They cut our food, water, medicine and electricity as well as the road to Aleppo and to Iraqi Kurdistan. No one could escape from the city and we were stuck inside.

Although I wanted to spend more time studying and drawing my sketches and practising calligraphy, my family expected me to go each day to the only open shop with bread supply and wait in line to get bread; I often waited for more than eight hours with hundreds of others from Kobane and the surrounding villages.

The shop where bread was distributed was set up by the PKK; without them and their support, there would have been no bread or food at all. So people who did not want to support PKK were bound to support them, as they were the only hope.

Stalemate in Syria’s Kobane and Deir Ez Zor

We drank salty water from wells in the ground and used oil-lamps at night. In this situation it was impossible to study. My personal situation became worse every day. I couldn’t even buy new shoes after the soles of my old shoes were worn out. It was hard to walk to the shop to get food for the family barefooted.

When we escaped to Turkey in early 2014, to look for a job there, the treatment we got was unimaginable.

My brother and I have been knocking on every door we possibly can for jobs but without proper identity [cards] no one is willing to hire us. I have interviewed for jobs in Suruc, Urfa, Istanbul, Cappadocia, Mersin and Antep. We got a few jobs, but after a few months of delays in salaries we were eventually never paid. Employers would say we were not authorised to get a salary. My first job which was for four month in Sanliurfa paid me for two months only.

It’s been a startling and disappointing journey that has made us realise that refugees have no refuge. Once we leave our country and home behind, we are bound to be stateless, homeless and jobless. My family had little savings and we have been moving around in Turkey, taking shelter with different relatives or acquaintances.

We don’t want to live in refugee camps as we feel we are not treated respectably there.

My mother’s health worries me the most. She needs regular medicine for her diabetes and for her thyroid disease. She wrote a letter to the Turkish government to ask for medication, but they said they don’t supply free medicine for refugees outside a refugee camp.

We have no citizenship rights or identity. The temporary resident’s permits that we were given by the refugee agency are thin papers with a tiny stamp. We don’t have any permanent IDs. I have made several attempts to get a passport for myself so that I can move to another country to work but the government keeps turning us away. They say that Syrian refugees don’t get any passports. Although I know some refugees who were looking for jobs with me before who were able to get passports and escape to Athens.

A friend helped me apply for asylum with the Swiss government, but my application was declined. I feel that my family and I will never be citizens of any country again. A job, a school, a home are just dreams brutally shattered in front of our eyes.

Huseyn Ali is a refugee from the northern Syrian town of Kobane.

This testimony was recorded and transcribed by journalist Kiran Nazish in Turkey.