“I understand people’s concerns”

By Vincent Leb

27-year old Wisam fled Syria in 2015. Three years later, he reflects on his new life in Austria; a country well-known for its anti-migrant policies.

‘The first ideas that cross my mind when I think of home? Pain. Injustice. Crisis without an end in sight. I see friends being tortured in prison and children who lost their parents. Many problems and no hope for improvement, in short.

I had high hopes about the revolution at the beginning. Like many others, I dreamed of democracy, freedom and a better future. Instead, we saw bombs, chemical weapons and air strikes.

The war had been going on for four years when I decided to leave Syria. No day would pass without me hearing about friends that were imprisoned or killed.

I was heading towards my last year of studies in civil engineering. Syrian law requires young men who received their degree to serve in the army. This meant fighting at the battleground until you lost your life.

But all I wanted was to live.

In 2015, I left Syria with my younger brother. We come from a wealthy family. Still, the money was only sufficient for smuggling the two of us to Europe. My parents had to stay in our hometown.

To this day I sometimes regret not having taken them with us. At the last period of your parents’ life, you would want to give them something back. It hurts not being able to do that. We are in contact through WhatsApp but meeting each other in person remains impossible. If I got caught at the Syrian border, I would immediately be sent to prison and sentenced for treason.

Our hometown Hama was besieged on multiple occasions. The internet would break down in the region and I wouldn’t be able to communicate with my parents anymore. I was extremely afraid during these times. Weapons were commonly used to punish innocent civilians. God knows what could have happened.

The European Dream

My first six months in Austria were a real culture shock. Me and my brother lived together with a local family in Vienna, trying to adapt. I was worried back then that I would never learn German and get to finish my studies. Time proved I would succeed at both.

Europe is so different from Syria in many ways. What I like most is the fact that if you behave according to the law, you won’t get punished. This was something I had never experienced before.

I sometimes feel sorry for the refugees trying to make their way to Europe now, as attitudes and policies towards migrants have taken a radical shift, especially in Austria. I absolutely understand that some people feel worried about their countries’ future when they experience thousands of strangers crossing the border at the same time.

Some policies of the current [right-leaning] government I support, others I don’t. I do think everyone is entitled to live a life in safety, peace and happiness. But it’s important for us to remember how to debate and listen to one another in mutual respect. In my case, I feel safe here and I have lots of Austrian friends. As long as you treat people right, you won’t face any difficulties.

I will get my degree in one and a half years; I’m already working part-time at a construction company. I dream of being able to return to Syria one day to help rebuild the country I called home for 24 years. But for now, I wish for an average life, I guess. I thrive to become a civil engineer – just like my dad in Syria.’