The photo taken on June 10, 2017 shows self-motivated notes on a mirror in the small apartment of Syrian refugee Mahmoud Qeshreh in Liege, Belgium (Xinhua/Han Chong)
by Zheng Jianghua
BRUSSELS, June 24 (Xinhua) -- "Stupid War!" Mahmoud Qeshreh, a Syrian refugee living in the Belgian town of Liege, aired his grievance in an anxious and helpless tone, when talking about the reasons for being forced to leave his homeland.
"I do not support any party in the war. All the parties are making mistakes. My father died in October last year because of the war. (There was) no doctor, he died of a simple sickness."
FORCED TO FLEE
The 27-year-old Qeshreh grew up in a middle-class family in Syria's eastern city of Aleppo. His father had been a lawyer for nearly 40 years before death; his mother has been a teacher in a primary school for around 30 years.
Qeshreh has two elder sisters, both of whom are English teachers in local elementary schools. His elder brother works in Oman as a revenue manager.
In 2015, Europe witnessed an unprecedented refugee crisis since the World War II, as more than one million refugees from Middle Eastern countries flocked to Greece through Turkey, before threading their way to other European countries. Qeshreh was one of the refugees at that time.
Recalling his pre-war life, Qeshreh said: "At that time my life is very good, I often go out drinking coffee with my friends, and sometimes go for a drive."
However, the outbreak of the Syrian war in 2011 brought to a close the then Aleppo university student Qeshreh's good days.
As his family's three houses and a building were razed to ground in the war, he and his parents moved to a sister's home temporarily, before moving to the house of his uncle who at that time was living abroad.
In dread of being conscripted to the army, Qeshreh, due to graduate in 2011, applied for a postponement of graduation. At the meantime, he opened up training courses on Project Management for the university students.
In 2013, as the war showed no sign of abating, Qeshreh decided to graduate because "if I continued to postpone, then it is difficult to graduate".
But he carried on running the training course in the university, while working part time for an education organization in Allepo.
He said the fighting between the Syrian government forces and the opposition in Aleppo is fierce at that time, and many young men, fearing to be enlisted, fled.
"In Syria, I did not have any hope." In May 2014, Qeshreh bid a sad farewell with his family and headed to Istanbul, Turkey. "This is my only option; Turkey was the only country at that time which grants Syrians visa-free entry."
In Istanbul, Qeshreh spared no effort to look for a job, but most of the time he banged his head against a brick wall. After lurching from one bad luck to the next for almost 15 months, the frustrated young man mulled returning to Syria.
"Even to be conscripted as a soldier, even if it means that I would die," he said.
Qeshreh told his mother the idea, but the shocked mother ordered him to dispel it instantly, saying she could finance him to leave for Europe.
At the beginning of August 2015, Qeshreh came to the city of Izmir in southwestern Turkey. After paying 1,200 U.S. dollars to a human trafficker, Qeshreh, huddling with more than 60 people in a boat, embarked on his first risky journey.
However, in the midway to Greece, they were intercepted by Turkish coast police, who took them back to Turkish coast. After several days, they went to Bodrum, southwest coast city of Turkey, to have another try.
Druing the first voyage from Bodrum, the boat, advancing less than 100 meters from the coast, capsized after being hit by a huge wave. Fortunately, Qeshreh swam to the cost.
A few days later, under a good weather, they boarded another boat at dawn. This time, no unfavorable things happened. After two and a half hours of voyage, they arrived at the Greek island of Kos.
From Kos, Qeshreh trudged to Athens, the capital of Greece, and then to Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary and Germany, before eventually setting his feet on Belgium at the end of August 2015.
Asked what impressed him most after going through such a rough patch, Qeshreh narrated a sad story. It was in Serbia when he, together with 14 others, planned to secretly cross into the territory of Hungary. One of his friends was shot dead by the Hungarian border police when he was fleeing.
"Whenever I recall this scene, I would cry," he said.
However, the Hungarian embassy in Beijing denied the accusation of border police killing refugees, saying the incident "has never happened".
According to the EU's Dublin regulation, refugees can only seek asylum in the first member states they set foot in. "We do not want to stay in Hungary and having fingerprints there. Refugees registered in Hungary have to stay in Hungary."
He said he intended to seek asylum in Belgium because "the Belgian and Syrian cultures are similar and Belgiam people are helpful, irrespective of whom you are, where you come from".
After arriving in the capital of Brussels and being registered for personal information at police station, he was sent to a refugee center in Nonceveux village, around 128 kilometers southeast of Brussels. Qeshreh lived there for 11 months before moving to Liege.
HARD TO RETURN HOME
Talking about his life at the refugee center, Qeshreh is full of gratitude. By his accounts, the refugee center accommodated around 220 people, providing every refugee free meals per day and 7.4 euros (8.2 U.S. dollars) per week.
"The refugee center offers everything for us, even laundry services, and the price is very cheap. There is cafe; the price is also very cheap. If we want to see a lawyer, they can make an appointment for us. Every month the center provides us a round trip ticket for holiday."
After two interviews with the competent departments of Belgium in January and March 2016, Qeshreh was granted refugee status and work permit in Belgium, valid for 5 years.
He said that the Belgian government provided an allowance of 860 euros per month for those who had obtained refugee status but had not yet found jobs. But they had to move out of the refugee center, thereby making room for newcomers.
In July 2016, Qeshreh rented an apartment of about 40 square meters in Liege with a monthly rent of 365 euros. A mirror on the wall of his apartment was dripped with self-motivated short notes like "I am smart", "I am strong".
For the time being, Qeshreh has not yet found a job and all his expenses rely on the allowance provided by the Belgian government. "Deducting the house rent, it's enough for my daily expenses," he said.
To integrate into local community, Qeshreh has worked as a volunteer for the Belgian Red Cross since last October.
What's more, he has been taking French courses since February. Due to his refugee status, Qeshreh only needed to pay 46 euros for the tuition fees which totaled 150 euros. He said the CPAS (Center Publique d'Aide Social) would pay the rest for him.
In his leisure time, Qeshreh often walks in the city of Liege. "Liege is beautiful; the residents here are very friendly," he beamed.
Having said that, living alone inevitably leads to homesickness. Qeshreh said that the fighting in Aleppo is now abating and he contacts his family members mainly through Whatapp, a social network App.
Asked whether he has any plan to return to Syria once the war ends, he said: "The war may end after 10 years. Now the children of nine or ten years old know how to use guns, but they have not been educated.
"After 10 years, they may be more professional. When they kill someone, they don't care. That's fun for them. I don't think it's good."
"I may go back to Syria for a visit, but I will not stay there. It's too dangerous," he said, adding that he is planning to bring his mother to Belgium for a reunion.
"It's hard (to get a reunion visa) ... but I will apply and let's see what will happen," he said, shrugging his shoulders.