Dea Saffan

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Stories of Belonging,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: London, United Kingdom
Production Team:
Available Collateral:

I am Dea Saffan. I am 25 years old and was born in 1994 in Deirezzor, where I lived for almost seven years before moving to the UAE due to my father’s work. We lived there until 2013. After that, we traveled to the UK for political reasons and applied for asylum there the same year. We got residency about a month later and it's true that that gave some psychological comfort but we did not feel completely stable.

My greatest ambition was to complete my studies, and I started working on this point from the moment we got residency. I improved my English language then my journey began at the University of Brighton in 2014. I got a Bachelor's degree in Conflict Resolution and later a Master's degree in International Management and Development.

During the first two years in the UK, I faced many challenges and I think there were many changes in my personality during these first two years.

One day I was invited to an event for Mother's Day organised by the Syrian community in the city of Pratviard. It was one of my first experiences of being in a place with a large number of Syrians, and this gave me a bit of reassurance in the beginning. In other words, I was with people who resembled me, yet something happened. This situation forced me to rethink our society and look at it from several different angles. I had an idea that I shared with one of the young organisers who was in his mid-twenties and had a good social status in the community. I suggested to him that we bring together young Syrian boys and girls to motivate and encourage each other towards a better future for us in a country where we are expatriates, usually for political or humanitarian reasons.

I told him about my idea, as in why not work on a small project that encourages us to help some of us to study or develop ourselves in order to contribute to our integration into the society in which we live.

But his answer shocked me, and he was very surprised by my suggestion.

He told me: It is difficult for girls to take part in such an idea or project because they are shy and not as outgoing in society. It is difficult to integrate them with the boys.

He suggested that I get the girls together separately at home or at the mosque, for example, to talk about our ideas. He gave me examples, like we should cook together or take part in cultural activities or talk about a religious subject or figure that influenced us. He said it would be easier if boys weren’t involved, because they were boys.

He also made it clear to me that he had originally started the small development projects for boys.

I asked him why he thought like this and why we could not organise an activity that included girls to broaden their awareness of society. At this point, the debate between us got heated, and he told me: "Where did you come from? This is the way it is in our society. Boys and girls shouldn’t be together or be open minded."

The truth was that when he asked me where I came from, I realised that I came from the same place as him. But I answered that I came from an environment that gave me freedom and made me believe that my voice is always important.

That situation made me think a lot about my identity, who I am and where I am from.

I have been told that I did not live in Syria so I do not feel this belonging to the country.

I see that belonging has no place or homeland for me now. As today's Dea, I belong to my parents who raised me to belong to what they planted in me. There are people who differ from me but who are also right. But in my opinion, we all belong to humanity.There is nothing that makes us different. In Syrian society there are so many very different communities living in a terrible way and we could be more homogeneous and closer. If only we would remember that we are all human beings, or at least all Syrians, so that we feel that we are from Syria, not from a specific sect, religion or class.

I think that to belong is to be human.

I am a Dea from London and this is my story.