Alaa Yagoub is Palestinian-Syrian and currently lives in Sweden. Here, he introduces himself by talking about his identity:
As a Syrian-Palestinian, the issue of identity is already a fundamental crisis. When asked about my identity, my response has always been: I am a Palestinian-Syrian. But some people question that: what’s Palestinian-Syrian? Well, I’m Palestinian, my parents come from Palestine, and at the same time I’m Syrian. I was born and raised in Syria, my father was born in Syria, we all live in Syria. As far as Syria is concerned, we have no place, and that’s our identity. After I immigrated, I summarized it with the answer that I’m from Yarmouk camp. In Sweden there are people who reject the very idea of a Palestinian-Syrian. You’re Palestinian and now you’re in Sweden.
He goes on to talk about what represents his identity as a Palestinian-Syrian:
When I think about this, my imagination always takes me to Yarmouk camp. Even though I didn’t live in the camp my entire life, I studied there at the UNRWA schools. In the camp I saw Palestinians and Syrians living side by side. You would often encounter Syrians who spoke Arabic with a Palestinian accent. At the same time, my father spoke with a Damascene accent, and so my Palestinian-ness is also Syrian: for me the two are one.
On how the past decade of conflict and war has impacted his Palestinian identity:
I spent the first while after the beginning of the uprising in Syria, and this was the most beautiful part of the revolution. Afterwards I went to the Emirates where there is a lot of diversity, and people there are every removed from what’s happening in Syria. We’d keep track of the events unfolding in Syria while at the same time we were subjected to pressures in this new place. So what was happening back home affected us a lot even if we were far away. We lost our concern for the country as a whole, which we once cared about from corner to corner. When we lost this we lost our sense of belonging to a place; it was transferred instead to individual people, or to the specific things inside Syria that pertain only to us rather than feeling a sense of belonging to the country or the nation itself.
On how immigration has affected his sense of identity as a Syrian:
Immigration affected my sense of identity in both positive and negative ways. On the positive side, I am today a free person, my dignity is preserved, my voice is heard, I can affect the society in which I live and I am able to develop myself as I wish. On the negative side, I spent 23 years of my life feeling like I belonged to Syria, and everything I did or worked for was for Syria. I studied so I could work there, so I could work on building a life there, and then all of a sudden I lost all of that. At the time I gained something else. Certainly both the loss and the gain are quite huge.
On the difficulties of immigration in terms of relationships, as well as customs old and new:
In the beginning, I had no relationships here, so I had to build friendships and get to know the family for example, which was the biggest factor preventing me from building social relationships. When I was living in the Emirates, I didn’t want to be there. I really wanted to go back, to see the people I missed. I didn’t want to grow attached to this new place, but then I was forced to. After that, on a linear scale I found myself closer to the category of social relationships in general, but then I’d move further away. When I moved to Sweden I felt like I was at the end of the world and Syria was so far away, Palestine was so far away, and even the Emirates was so far away. And so, could I actually do this, could I allow myself to work in this country but still keep myself removed from everything so as not to lose my sense of belonging? No, instead I gave myself the chance to change, and began to integrate more, and then I started to have social relationships here. I met people, I got to know the society and so it opened up to me. But I did lose what I’d been afraid of losing when I was in the Emirates, which is the vast sense of belonging I had to Syria as a whole. Now I feel a sense of belonging to here because I finally have something I really needed which is an official identity.
If he had to define his sense of identity briefly:
What affected Alaa’s personality most is that Alaa’s identity got lost in all the leaving he had to do. I moved around so much from place to place that I never built a strong identity. I didn’t build strong social relationships, a stable family. I didn’t have a proper adolescence, I didn’t have a proper childhood, I never built a proper sense of belonging to any land.