Omar Alshikh

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Peaceful Coexistence in the Diaspora,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Larnaca, Cyprus
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Omar Alshikh is 32 years old and left his country, Syria, to escape the war and pursue his work as a journalist.  He went to Lebanon for a month, and then left for Turkey at the end of 2015.  He chose Cyprus as his country of residence and asylum because some of his brothers had been living there for decades. He says: "in order to avoid the pain of isolation, I wanted to be close to my brothers. This was important as a writer in the cultural field in order to avoid depression and nostalgia because I had been happy in my country. I would have worked and followed my passion for reading and writing had it not been for my problem with the regime and the war.”

Omar considers that the presence of his family contributed to the speed at which he integrated into the local society. He says, "If you have to go to any government agency, there is a connection that you can use - you have knowledgeable brothers who have social relationships with the Syrian and Arab communities and are in contact with them.  Since the nature of thinking is closed in this country, I found that it was difficult to integrate without mixing with the locals, no matter how hard I tried to assimilate their language, experiences and culture. There is a faster way to reach them but if you only communicate with Arabs, there will always be a barrier between you and the local people”.

Omar made an effort to learn the Greek language because “the key to my profession is the language,” he says.  Despite working in the Arab press, he continued to write independently for a number of press platforms in Arabic.  Although he made enough money to live on, he says, “The downside is that I work in the Arabic language and this has separated me from my environment. I spend many hours reading Arabic books, and Cyprus is a country that does not have a program to integrate refugees. If you want to learn the language, you have to do it on your own.”

Omar suffered for quite a long time looking for a job.  The labour office supported him financially for a period of six months, then sent him to work in "stone quarries, cleaning farms and at a plastic plant."  He told them that he was a journalist but he “didn’t mind working in stone quarries and cleaning farms.” He asked them to find him a more suitable job and told them, “I do not mind working in a warehouse, even carrying books". He says, “Cyprus is not an island capable of rehabilitating refugees. Refugees are imposed on them because they belong to the European Union."

Opportunities to attend cultural events allowed Omar to become part of the Cypriot social scene and he was able to integrate following a long journey learning the Greek language. He found these opportunities on "social media, and some people know that I am a journalist and send me invitations. This is a form of communication as there is a link between me and this society in this cultural field. The other form of communication is through the Cypriot families of my brothers, with whom I spend a lot of time."

Omar believes that religion plays a role in revealing some social differences between refugees and Cypriots. He says, "The country’s nature here is based on the ecclesiastical system and the ruling authority is the church. The church helps strangers, people passing by, and the needy. There are individuals who make you feel the difference, for example through conversations about how in your home country it is not possible to marry someone from another religion. The majority that lives in the occupied north are Muslims but there are no big differences. Personally, I am not religious. I believe, but I am not religious and I do not discuss the issue and it does not bother me.  On the contrary, I like to visit holy places such as mosques and churches and enjoy them culturally as a part of society. I do not feel this affects my personality but citizens in this country are strongly attached to religion.”

After almost three a half years as a refugee in Cyprus, Omar says that as a writer and a journalist he just wants a quiet place where there is electricity and Internet so he can communicate with people who understand him and share his love for culture.  He says, “I will be able to communicate with a Cypriot one way or another when I am culturally satisfied.  In the end, this is their country and I am their guest.  I look at how they deal with nature, their attitude when they lose an argument or friends due to misunderstanding. After a while things, will get back to normal and even improve.  He says, “I believe in Karma, attitude and behavior.”