Lisbon: Mohammad Aleed was 27 years old when the so-called ‘Arab Spring’ took over Middle Eastern world five years ago.
War broke out in the city of Aleppo, Syria.
Aleed was living with his family of brothers and sisters at the time. He had graduated with a degree in electronics engineering and was getting a handsome pay from the telecom company he worked for. The fate of Syria changed with the civil war between Bashar Hafez al-Assad’s forces and the rebel groups.
Initially, Aleed found himself leaning towards the rebellion, thinking that a change would come for good. But slowly, the rebel forces backed by ISIS started plundering the city. Watching open murders and the snatching of minor girls become a regular affair in his city, Aleed thought that to take the side of the regime would be better. By then, he was engaged to Nairouz Mousa, a Kurd with a degree in economics.
The two got married in 2012, while the city was burning. Still, the couple decided not to move and make their living in Aleppo. Things got even worse. Nairouz got pregnant and the civil war escalated. In December 2014, their first son Lokman was born. From their window, they could see the shelling.
The worst was their neighbour’s house. ISIS suspected them to be members of the regime and fired a mortar shell that killed the family of four, including two infants. By then, Nairouz was pregnant for the second time. Lokman was a year and five months old. Things were getting worse. Post traumatic disorders, hyper tension, nervousness and nausea was common for Nairouz. Aleed could go to the office less and less because of the violence outside. Electricity was infrequent, the family went days and weeks without electricity and water. Even arranging a community generator didn’t help because of the fuel shortage. This was at the peak of summer.
By early winter, their second son Ivan was born. The only thing Aleed was thinking about now was how to get out of Syria. But it wasn’t easy. With two infants, the biggest worry was of the human smugglers who often drug and snatch children to sell as slaves. Then he met with a friend and others from his family, and they finally decided to flee Aleppo. By then Ivan was five months old.
One night, after packing some food for the children, a few clothes and whatever cash they could save, they left for the coast to board a boat to Greece. The Aegean Sea was quiet as they crossed over with 200 other Syrians, mostly from Aleppo. The worst days were to come after they were left at the coast of Greece, at the island of Lesvos. Numerous refugees were already there, struggling to negotiate their way through Europe. The Greek border police and the immigration officers were sometimes ruthless as the crowds became unmanageable.
Aleed and his family waited there for weeks till they could negotiate their way to Portugal. The EU commission for refugees directed him to Portugal. An Islamic organisation working closely with refugees was contacted to take care of the family. With whatever little money they had after paying the smugglers, Aleed and his family hitchhiked till Lisbon. There they met Abdool Vakil from the Islamic organisation.
The children were falling ill and Aleed’s wife was getting weaker. They barely had any money. Vakil and his partners had to find them a home. Finally, a Bosnian, who happened to be a refugee himself from the Bosnian-Serb crisis, lent one of his apartments in the outskirts of Lisbon to the family.
Today, they have been in Lisbon for nearly an year. The couple has been unable to find job for themselves or a school for Lokman. The Portugese government has given them two years to learn the language and look for a job – if they manage that, they could be granted temporary citizenship with refugee status. But at their age, Aleed (33) and Nairouz (29) are finding it difficult to learn a new language.
The family is currently on a fixed stipend from the government and the EU commission for refugees. Health issues like scabies and hypertension are part of Aleed’s life. Ivan also needs treatment for trouble in his brain, perhaps a surgery – the costs of which seem unmanageable for the family. It is hard for the couple to see anything other than a bleak future for their sons.
“In the name of Allah some miscreants are finishing the world, while he believes Islam is a religion of peace,” Aleed said, adding that ISI is a hoax in the name of Islam.
Nairouz still hears gun shots and the screams of women being kidnapped. In Lisbon, the sound of an tyre bursting or a cracker still shakes the family. Aleppo, once their beautiful city, is now only ruins, while its people struggle as refugees in an increasingly xenophobic world.