Shevan Vanderlugt

Produced by: Sharq.Org
Part of the Curated Collection: Stories of Belonging,
Original Interview Length:
Interview Location: Utrecht, TheNetherlands
Production Team:
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I am  Shevan, a Syrian youth who studied English at Damascus University and who currently lives in Utrecht, the Netherlands.

In Syria I had dreams, friends, a house. When the Syrian revolution started, it felt unreal. Later in 2011, the Syrian intelligence arrested me because I took part in the peaceful demonstrations.

After I was released from prison in 2012, I fled to Lebanon. I registered at the UNHCR there, and a year later, I was granted the right to resettle and was invited to go to the Netherlands in 2013.

I came to the Netherlands,  a different society, a new country, a new language and a whole new life. I came carrying my sorrows and memories of the horrible prison I had been in.

It was not easy to find my way in this country but I tried to learn the language, make new friendships and learn about my new world.

I learned how to ride a bicycle. I also learned how to cook and I would invite people to my house. Cooking and eating are ways to tell the world more about yourself and your country. They are also ways to learn about people who are different from you. It's not just eating. We eat and at the same time share a story or two.

I also started running and participated several times in the Netherlands marathon because running helped me to come to terms with myself, and helped me to overcome the depression that haunted me from time to time because of the terrible memories I had from being in prison in Syria.

I am gay, and this is known to be a problem in a country like Syria. I want to share with you a story about something that happened to me in the Netherlands.

When I had been there for a while, I started working in several human rights organisations and associations, including the International Justice Organisation and several others. While working on a project with an association, I was asked to go to a number of schools in the Netherlands and share my stories. I would talk about human and gay rights. Once, I was asked to go to a school in the south of the Netherlands near Maastricht. It is known that there are people there who are right-wing extremists. While I was in that school, in the middle of my speech, a boy of about 13 or 14 years old interrupted me. He stood in front of the class to tell me, "I don't want to hear you, I don't want to talk to you. Why? Because you are a refugee. You came to our country to steal our money and country". I laughed a lot, then replied, ‘No, I came to your country to steal your men, not your women. You can keep your women to yourself. I don't want your women!’

The children in the class laughed. Then I completed the story that I was telling them, and when I had finished talking, the boy came to me and said, ‘I respect you.’

A while later, the boy’s mother sent me an email saying, ‘My son talked a lot about you and I am curious to meet you. Can we meet? Can I visit you?’ And I answered, ‘Of course, you are welcome at any time! You can visit me, we can have dinner together with your husband and your son.’

They came on the date we agreed on, and it was surprising that she also brought her brother with her because they had been afraid of me. They had a typical image of refugees and Syrians, and this image is very wrong and unclear. They were surprised when they came ... surprised to find out that I am a young Syrian  man. They were surprised by Syria, which they typically viewed as something stereotyped and terrible. I told them that asylum is not an option, none of us chooses to go to another country, leaving his home and his people. I remember that we had a nice time and talked about many things and since then we have become friends. I remember that the mother told me, ‘We never imagined being friends with a refugee!’

This is my story. I hope I have managed to share it clearly. Thank you. Shevan.