I’m Dan, and I’m 29 years old. I’m a Syrian living in London, UK. I come from a village in northern Syria where I lived until the age of 17. After that I moved to Damascus Old City, to the historic neighborhood of Bab Touma. I lived there for 8 years, studying at the University of Damascus.
Then, like so many Syrians, I moved to Lebanon. I’d been called up for military service and had to join the army, but because I refuse to be a fighter I was forced to flee to Lebanon. I lived there for 3 years, during which time I formed so many ideas about how to deal with people. Life was difficult in Lebanon because of the situation there. I had a job I had to show up for almost daily, and though I had a university degree, I couldn’t really use it in Lebanon because they didn’t recognize degrees from Syrian universities, and Lebanese companies in general refused to employ Syrians. It was also really difficult to get a residency permit just to feel somewhat settled. Afterward I was forced to obtain one so I could renew my passport.
I contacted a university in Lebanon to register in any kind of study program, Bachelor’s or Master’s, it didn’t matter. The only thing available was a course of studies in Islamic and Christian theology, and since I’m an atheist and not religious at all, I was totally uninterested in the subject. Still, I registered so I could get the visa, like so many Syrians who are forced to do the same. After I registered, I went to apply for the permit, but the Lebanese General Security asked me to sign a “pledge not to marry,” so I was forced to sign this contract promising that I wouldn’t marry a Lebanese woman during the period of my studies.
In 2018, I managed to get myself ready to travel to London; I obtained a student visa to go study for my Master’s degree and I felt a great sense of optimism.
I arrived in Britain in 2019. It was really easy to get here, and I was subjected to no interrogations at the airport. I had to contact someone named Omar, to whom I’d been introduced online by a mutual friend. I met up with Omar and he took me to his house, helping me carry my bags. He was very kind; I really hadn’t expected him to be so kind.
The next day, Omar left me a note reading: “Dan, I woke up earlier than you did and headed to work. Anything you might need you’ll find in the kitchen. If you want to go out and explore the city and discover where your university is use Google Maps.” He helped me with so many things, things I hadn’t expected to get any help with, and during the twenty days or so that I lived with him, I formed an impression of him as a kind of person I’d never had the pleasure of meeting before. Really, I’d never met anyone like him. He was so incredibly helpful, to the extent that he described everything in detail, like when he’d offer to write me emails, saying “I’ll contact whoever you need.” I was so comfortable there.
I made friends at the university quickly; we struck up conversations and began joking around immediately. There weren’t any of these barriers between people that I’d encountered at the university in Damascus or in Lebanon. People didn’t seem to be afraid of one another, and it was so easy to deal with everyone. The help I got from my friends was really invaluable to me in London. As a foreigner I was the weakest link, and they had way more confidence than I did. They helped me put together a CV so I could apply for a job. I got the same sort of job I’d had in Lebanon, but it was so much more comfortable, because they respect their employees here. As opposed to Lebanon or Syria where they treat you like a slave, working you to exhaustion. Here it’s so much more comfortable, like if an employee wants to develop or invest in their skills it’s up to them.
This is one of the things I noticed, that there are so many more opportunities here and life in general is much easier. Any information you might need can be found on the internet and everything is smooth and uncomplicated.
Long story short, this was my journey from Syria to Lebanon to London.
This summarised transcript of Haneen's story was prepared by Omar Alshikh, edited by Monzer Hayek and translated by Leena Mounzer