by Hummam Sheikh Ali
DAMASCUS, June 26 (Xinhua) -- "My friends called me crazy when I told them I was going back to Syria, but when I arrived, I told them the crazy is the one who seeks refuge in Europe," Speiro Haddad, a 25-year-old man, told Xinhua.
Haddad, a photographer, was one of the tens of thousands of Syrians who had sought refuge in Europe when all windows of hopes were shut in their faces.
The young man, who has got large tattoos on both his arms, said he didn't find the dream he was having ahead of going to Europe a real one when he arrived there.
He said he couldn't stay longer than five months in Austria, the country where he applied for asylum.
"My bad luck had me end up in a camp with refugees from Afghanistan, Yemen, Iran and Syria, and most of them looked at me in a strange way because of my tattoos and because I drink alcohol, something I wasn't comfortable with," he said.
He said he didn't feel belongingness with the community of refugees he stayed with, in addition to his frustration with the situation of the refugees in general.
"Before leaving Syria, I had a dream of living in Europe to fix my situation and because Europe has always been a dream, but when I got there, things weren't as perfect as I had imagined. Small sum of money on monthly bases and the fact of being a refugee mean I am a second class human being, and I could remain so for a long time," he said.
"Even though my home in Jobar district near Damascus was destroyed, but I find my country as the best option for me, I realized that after reaching Europe," he said.
He said that many of the Syrian refugees in Europe would want to return, if they had the chance, due to the relatively ill treatment they receive in the refugee camps there, not to mention the prolonged procedures for resettlement due to the large number of asylum seekers.
On the other side, people from inside Syria have started refraining from seeking refuge in Europe, after "hearing stories about the poor quality of life for refugees."
"I no longer think Europe is the dream I would want to pursue after hearing the stories of friends I know about the mistreatment the refugees receive in some camps in Europe," Bernar Juma, a 38-year-old, Syrian who runs a cafe in the old quarter of the capital Damascus, said.
Juma was among those who were selling everything they have got to afford the trip to Europe. He had already started selling some musical instruments he showcased at his cafe, before realizing that he would lose a lot by leaving his country.
"By the end of 2015, I felt death was so close, especially in the district of Bab Tuma which was a target for the daily mortar shelling by the rebels, and at that time the thought of me leaving took over my thinking and I had actually decided to leave," he said.
Juma said the truce, which has been concluded near the capital Damascus under the mediation of Russia and the United States, has pushed him to rethink of his decision, and the stories he heard from his friends, who had already made it to Europe, were an extra push to have his decision reversed.
In February, a cessation of hostilities deal was concluded in several Syrian cities, but has noticeably held well near Damascus. Later on, observers said the violence near the capital decreased by 50 percent as a result, and areas such as Bab Tuma and the nearby Qassa, which have suffered from the repetitive mortar attacks by the rebels, have recovered and regained some of their lost glamour.
Now, Juma and his wife have fully renovated their cafe in one of the narrow lanes of Bab Tuma, and completely took the idea of leaving out of their minds.
"My sister in law reached Germany a year ago and many of my friends are scattered in Europe, but I don't feel they are happy there, they are always complaining," he said.
Juma now serves new beverages to his customers, deciding to put all his heart to his work and have a little patience in the hope of the Syrian crisis could one day end.
Ahmad al-Ashqar, another wannabe refugee in Europe, said he was planning to go to Germany and he even studied German for quite some time, but after a careful consideration, he found that it was not easy for a 30-year-old man to blend in easily in a total strange culture and environment.
"The German language was extremely difficult, I had spent eight months studying to pass its initial levels and I had planned to travel to Germany once I have finished my fifth class, but I later realized that it's a totally different culture and it's not easy to study a language you don't like," he said.
Al-Ashqar said he had lived in Syria all his life, and has learned a lot to get through the life in Syria, "so I don't want to take a risk whose results are not guaranteed."
"I want to stay here and work in photography and filming for as long as it takes, one day this crisis will come to an end, because nothing lasts forever."
Aside from the feeling of being strange in a community, or even treated as a second class citizen, people said they have refrained from traveling due to the tough economic situation, as each trip to Europe through the illegal routes would cost lots of U.S. dollars.
Sufyan, a 29-year-old driver, said he was trying to save money out of his work in order to be able to pay the fees of the trip, however, with every penny he saves, the Syrian pound devalues, and he eventually found himself in an endless whirlpool.
"I need 6,000 U.S. dollars to reach Europe, I have collected some Syrian pounds, but the continuous slump in the Syrian pound exchange rate against the dollars did have an impact on my savings to the extent that I felt I could never reach to the 6,000 dollars target," he said.
Walid Rashid, who runs a store for selling bags in Souk al-Khuja in Damascus, said he had witnessed a decline in the purchase of bags by people in comparison with last year.
"My selling of bags has declined 50 to 60 percent in comparison with last year, as a result of the low number of people who are taking the trip to Europe now," he said.
Rashid said his business boomed last year with a large number of people buying bags, particularly the waterproof ones, to take the sea trip from Turkey to Europe.
Still, Rashid says he is happier now despite the decline in the purchase of bags.
"All of the traders would be happy with the high sells, but not me, because with every bag I sell there is a young man leaving this country, probably for good. I used to hear their stories, every one of them had a story to tell while buying the bag," he said.
According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), over three million Syrians have fled to Syria's immediate neighbors Turkey, Lebanon, Jordan and Iraq. About 6.5 million are internally displaced within Syria.
Meanwhile, nearly 150,000 Syrians have declared asylum in the European Union, while member states have pledged to resettle a further 33,000 Syrians. The vast majority of these resettlement spots - 28,500 or 85 percent - are pledged by Germany, according to recent estimates. Enditem