'I Was Like A King In Syria'
‘The sea is very close but we do not have the soul to go in’ Mohammad tells me, shortly after we meet in Agios Andreas.
He’s right - the sea is very close and in another lifetime Mohammad tells me he would have enjoyed swimming in it. But not now… not without his soul.
He is a proud, respectable man. He and his family have been in Greece for seven months, of which three have been spent here in the camp in Agios Andreas.
‘I was like a king in Syria and Syria was the queen of the world. We were happy in Syria. We had everything we needed. Aleppo was one of the best cities in all the Arab countries. Thousands of tourists came all the time to Aleppo.’
‘Here we are dying very slowly. There we were dying very fast. We are very humiliated and we are passing through very difficult times.’
There is a profound sense of the family’s torment. His son, Bassam, has developed mental health problems as a result of what he experienced in Syria. Bassam’s wife, Amar, looks thoroughly worn out. She tries to care for their two children, Fatma (3) and Haidar (1) - who is not a well little boy.
As an engineer in Syria, Mohammad and his family enjoyed a comfortable life. Here, he says, there is only humiliation.
‘If life stays like this then we would prefer, for our dignity, to go back. Even if we die there. We want only to be peaceful and to make a better future for our children. And we want to say to people we are not terrorists like they think we are.’
When we leave, Bassam wants to clarify something with me. He is worried that I may be upset by the way that the family spoke; that I might have thought that they were cross with me. They’re not, he wants me to know. Only at the system and the situation that they find themselves in, but not with me, he insists.
It is clear that he needs me to know this. I’m struck by their grace.
Frankly, who could blame them if they were cross with me, at what they think I represent, perhaps just another person who came…and went.