Interview #7: Asem Alsayjare (Refugee)

[Interviewer] Well, Asem. Thank you so much for your time and....

[Asem] You're welcome.

[Interviewer] Thank you, and what I'd like to do is as we spend time together today is just to talk

with you about your experiences, some of the gifts and strengths that you've gained since being in Germany, maybe some of the challenges you've faced and are facing. To start would you be willing to tell us a little bit about your story about arriving in Germany? Would you be willing to do that?

[Asem] Yeah. It was a long trip—if I could call it a trip. It was also dangerous. I went from Syria in 2015 in June, in July; it was July. It took about 45 days to get here in Germany. It was a very well-known time when many refugees went in the Balkan way.

[Interviewer] Yes.

[Asem] Yeah, I traveled that way too and then I went with a boat to Greece. At first was not easy to find people who could organize this boat trip. I stayed in Turkey about 10 days, and I met many, many bad people who didn't care about people—if they stayed alive or if they died. It was a very, very bad experience that I had along with many other people. I reached Greece after about two hours on the Mediterranean in this boat with about 45 other people. In Greece it was also another bad experience for refugees in the camps there. They didn't have a good life at all. They didn't have a shower; they didn't have bathrooms. They did everything in the streets. It was really, really bad to see them. 

         After three days, I went to the capital of Greece, to Athens, to organize the next step that was to find a bus to go to the border between Greece and Macedonia. It took about 18 hours to reach the border at midnight. Then, sorry, it was also funny when I remember that now because we were about 60 people who began to walk to the borders and the bus. The person who had the bus told us yeah, I know that you want to reach the border. I will go to there, yeah? He drove about 20 kilometers more till we reached the border. We made the trip as a group who lived in this space together. Then we walked. We followed one of our friends who told us yeah, we can go with a navigator who would help us find our way; and he didn't do that well.

[Interviewer] Oh no.

[Asem] Yeah. He took us to the police without knowing it, yeah?

[Interviewer] Uh-huh.

[Asem] Then the police told us that we should stay there where we found about 60 more people. We were told there were 120 people in all. We got permission to go in groups of about 20 people to a center where we could get papers to go by train across Macedonia. There were more than 100 people. It was about four o'clock or three o'clock and I met people from Syria. One of them was from Damascus, I think. After one hour, the police told us you can go now. You should not have this paper. Simply go.

[Interviewer] Go? Just go?

[Asem] Yeah. Then we took the train. The train was very, very ugly. We had a small room on this train with more than 30 people. It smelled bad. It was very, very bad; and I didn't have any place to sit down. I stood about eight hours, yeah? I reached the border between Macedonia and Serbia. We waited also about four hours, but there were many police in this area because they were afraid of refugees. They didn't want to let them go through Serbia. We waited about four hours. Then we said okay, we will not wait any more. We went through the forests. It took about eight hours without water and without eating, that was my first experience in a forest. We found water on the ground and drank it because we didn't have any water. We're about 20 people. After about eight hours, we reached a small city. It was a Muslim city. There's also a mosque. We could wash our faces there, and we could drink water.

         Then we went to another village. There was also a camp in this village. Normally the refugees would stay in these camps. Then we again needed papers to be able to travel to Belgrade or to cross the border into Hungary. We didn't want to stay in this camp because it was very, very crowded, and it was very, very warm—very bad. This is how the refugees lived. Then we found a man who told us yeah, okay, I can give you the papers; but you need to pay more. We said okay, we can, we will, we will pay more. We paid him, everyone paid him about 50 euros, I think, for the papers; and he brought us to the capital of Serbia, to Belgrade. It took about six hours of waiting and then six hours on the bus until we reached Belgrade at midnight. There were about 20 people, and we were told to find a hostel or hotel or something like that. I went with a friend and we looked for a hotel. We found a hostel, a small hostel with a nice man. He is still a friend of mine. He spoke with me about the situation in Belgrade. He spoke about his experience with refugees. He told there was no room for me in this hostel, and I should go to another hostel that was also owned by this one. He said, “I will go with you”, “I will help you”. It was very, very amazing to have his help, but it was what we always wanted on this trip when were in a foreign land with foreign languages and with foreign people. You don't know if you will be able to stay alive or not. Then we went into this hostel after three days without having a bathroom to take a shower. Therefore, at first it was very, very important to me that we had a shower. We slept till the next day, and then we went him and told him that the room was not large enough for 12 people. It was very bad. Then we found a new hostel, and we went to it. Then came the most important step in this journey—it was to Hungary. At that time, the regime in Hungary was very bad. It didn't respect the refugees; and they didn't want to let them go through Hungary. They wanted to make it like the border between U.S.A. and Mexico, yeah?

[Interviewer] The border wall.

[Asem] Yes, they began it at this time; and that was really, really hard to think about because we spent about 20 days, 20, yeah, till we reached Belgrade. We didn't want to go back. Yeah?


[Interviewer] Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm.

[Asem] We spend money, we spend energy, we were afraid. It was bad. Therefore, we should speak with people who organize that trip between Serbia and Wien, the capital of Austria. When I was there, I met a Syrian family. We made a connection, and then I meet them again in Serbia, and the man....

[Interviewer] Wow.

[Asem] Yeah, the man. I will tell you again how many people I met on this journey. You will not believe it. He found a man who can organize this trip, but it was on the condition that we would not pay him money. The money stayed with me till we reached Wien. 

[Interviewer] Okay.

[Asem] Yeah? When we reached Wien, I can give this man the money. It took about 12 hours, I think, or 13 till until we reached Wien. Then I paid him the money because the experience was relatively good. I made the decision to go with this man also to Wien; and that was a new experience, a new adventure. It was the most important and the worst step in this trip. At first, we went in the forest. We walked about seven to eight hours. I don't remember the details now, but it was about seven or eight hours till we reached a small forest again and met two people who we were told to follow them. They spoke their language, Serbian or something like that—not English nor Arabic nor German. We weren't able to understand any word that would mean go, go, go. We weren’t able to understand any word, and it felt dangerous. It was dangerous. You couldn't know what will happen. There were also kids with us. We were not the only people in our group. We were about 40 people. We stopped then on a small street, and we were told to wait for cars to travel to Wien. We were on the other side of the street from the man who organized this. What's up?

[Interviewer] It's almost like--

[Asem] Smuggler?

[Interviewer] Yeah, smuggler.

[Asem] The smuggler who organized this trip phoned me to know if we reached the street or not. After three or four hours waiting, that was stressful. You feel like collapsing, yeah? About seven or eight hours later six people were still on the street. The others left with the cars, and there were six left; I was one of them. There were two other Syrians and three from Iraq. I phoned the smuggler. I told him what is that? There are not enough cars. You should do something. He said, "That's not my problem. You should go to the border." He told us to go about five kilometers in the forest to the border between Serbia and Hungary, and then entered Hungary. If the police saw us, it would be a big problem. I told him I will not do that. You should do something. At this time, we had two phones with 50 percent in each battery. We had maybe a half bottle of water and maybe two pieces of chocolate. We were six people. I thought yeah, we will wait maybe two or three hours, not more. Every hour he phoned me. He told me okay, a car will come, a car will come. It was about eight hours that morning till 10 in the evening, more than 12 hours, about 14 hours waiting. The others could sleep, the others could do things, but I was the one who has the phone. I was to organize all of this stuff, but not forget I anything. At seven o'clock in the evening, he phoned us and told us, "Yes, the car will come. You should prepare yourself." We were in the forest. It's about, not bigger than this area. Yeah?

[Interviewer] Mm-hmm.

[Asem] And we are afraid. We did not want to be seen by the police. We would be arrested. We changed our clothes because they were bad, and we went to the street. When we got there, we discover that all over in this area there was people. They saw us, but the car had not come. We went to another side of the street. We were behind two big trees for 10 hours. The smuggler phoned me again. He told me that was your bad decision not to go again to the border between Serbia and Hungary. I told him no, that was not our decision. You should come here and see how it went here. At 12 o'clock, I was really, really ready to collapse. I could not do anything more. I told the others I will go to the police. Sorry.


[Interviewer] That's your microphone. To adjust that.... 

[Asem] So?

[Interviewer] Yeah. Be careful not to touch it.

[Interviewer] I think it's touching your skin. Should we just....

[Asem] Can you, can you?

[Interviewer] Take a break?

[Woman Technician] Yeah. Just want to be able to hear, especially.... That's better.

[Asem] Thank you. I told the smuggler okay, I will go to the police. It does not matter. I will not be able to go on. It was about two days in forest; and it was very, very hard to organize all this stuff. Then he told me okay, we will asleep here in the forest; and we will go to the police tomorrow. I told him okay. I lost all of my clothes when I was in Greece, all of them. I had only T-short and shorts.

[Interviewer] And shorts.

[Asem] That's what I had, and it was summer. It was, I think, at this time maybe end of July or August; but it began to rain. It began to rain, and it was heavy. We also didn't eat anything in about 16 hours. Although it rained, I could sleep. I could have a rest. At two o'clock, my phone rang, and the friends told me that's the smuggler. I took the phone again, and I spoke to him. He told me, look, a car will come with six places for you. You should go with it. I asked him, are you sure? He told me yeah, yeah, I am sure. Okay, we waited about one hour. This journey was a game of waiting, a game of patience. You must be patient. You must be able to wait. After one hour, a car came. It was like he described with room for six people.

[Interviewer] The driver?

[Asem] The driver could speak no English, no French, no Arabic. I don't know which language he spoke. He saw us, and he invited us to go in the car. We went in the car, and we started to relax a little bit because our big problem was having to stay in Hungary. You know?

[Interviewer] Mm-hmm.

[Asem] We heard many things, many bad things of this country. We traveled with him in the car.

After half an hour, he looked at me. He phoned someone in his language that I didn't understand; and he looked at me and said something I didn't understand. We were on the highway. After about one hour, he stopped, and he told all of us get out 

[Interviewer] All of you to get out?

[Asem] Yeah, yeah.

[Interviewer] Of the car?

[Asem] It was on the highway. Why? Why are you making us do that? “Go out” Not another word. We were refugee. We didn't know if we could be able to stay in the car or not.


[Interviewer] Wow.

[Asem] We went out. It was on the highway. There were trucks. We tried to stop many of them, but they didn't want to. I told you we were three from Syria, three from Iraq. At this time, it was maybe one of the hard moment which I experienced on this journey; but I told the people, we are now six people and it's very dangerous to stay together. The police will discover us in one minute. Therefore, we should divide ourselves in two groups, three people and three people; but the people from Iraq couldn't speak English. They could speak only Arabic, so they followed us. Where we went, they followed. I had the feeling that we would be seen by the police so I told my friend, okay, I will go to this bus station. I will sit down till the police come. No, you should not he said. We had no solution. It was highway with only trucks. It was now morning. It was about eight o'clock. We could stay, we could go to the police, but I still hoped that a solution would be found.

         After one hour, the police came to us. I think one of the people in the neighborhood saw us, and we had heard that the people in this area cooperated with the police. When they saw refugees, they called them immediately. The police asked me where I came from? I told him. I was ready to collapse. I didn't do anything to resist him. I gave him my pass, and we traveled in his car. We spent about 12 hours in the police station and were asked many questions. I slipped out of the chair many times because I was very tired; and after 10 or 12 hours, it was about six or evening, we went to another station. In this station, we also had a translator. He asked us if we want to be in Hungary, I told him no. I tell you it was a big problem. He said us, then if you don't want to do that, you should go to the jail. I told him I would go to the jail. I would not stay here. Okay, he said I should not make a decision now. I should stay in this caravan, but it was dirty.

[Interviewer] Dirty?

[Asem] Very dirty. It was very warm. It was very bad. I told him okay. We will go to this dirty caravan, and we slept. The next morning, we went by truck to another station. It was a central station; and there was also a person who asked us many question about our life, about our situation, why we want to come here and things like that. He told us okay, you have two possibilities. You can stay here as a refugee or you could go to jail. I told him okay, I would go to jail. The others also said they would go to the jail because if we wanted to stay in Hungary, we would have to give up our passes to the authority. Yeah?

[Interviewer] Mm-hmm.

[Asem] That meant we would not be able to travel more because that was an important document to get us into Germany. What was very strange, we had all decided to stay in Hungary, but four or five of our friends were allowed to go out with their passes. Two, me and someone else, had to stay in jail. Why, I didn't know. I really wanted to know why. They had our finger....

[Interviewer] Their fingerprints.

[Asem] Fingerprints, yeah, and they told us that's only for our security? I went to the jail with this man from Iraq. At first, we were in a central jail where I met other people from Syria, and then we went to another jail. I didn't know where I was. It was somewhere near the Serbian border. Normally we would stay about one week in the jail. After one week, all people who were with me left. I was still in the jail. I met more than 300 people in this jail who came and went. After two weeks, I still in the jail.

         Okay, then the friends who met me were afraid of me because when I was in the jail, an organization for human rights came. They were from Europa, and they asked who can speak English here? I was only one who could speak English. They interviewed me for about two hours. I told them everything about this jail; how bad it was, everything. Therefore, many of my friends told me that it could be because of that interview I would not be able to leave. That was very, very bad. After one week I could reach my family. There was also a phone in this jail. They could phone me because we didn't have access to the Internet. There was Internet, and I told this organization that we couldn’t use it. After they left, the next day, the police told us we could use the Internet—after two weeks being in jail. The organization told these police that they had to let us use Internet. After 18 days, one night someone came to me. He was also a policeman. He told me I should sign this paper. It was a language I didn't understand. You also wouldn’t, I think.

[Interviewer] Mm-hmm, I don't know.

[Asem] Yes.

[Interviewer] Yes.

[Asem] I told him I would not sign it. I didn't understand anything there. He said no, you should do that. Okay, I did that. I signed it and the next day, they said this one and this one and this one should leave. A bus waited of us, and we traveled with the bus to the Serbian border again. I stayed one more day in a jail, and I met one person from Syria. He told me he would go with me everywhere. I told him okay; it's okay. In Serbia, I had to pay 50 euros. Why, I didn't know. I looked in my bag and there were only 200 euros; and I had to think about what I should do. I was very tired and had 200 euros. I wouldn't be able to go into Hungary again that same day. I needed a rest. Therefore, I decide to go to Belgrade again. We got paper from the policeman in Serbia. We thought that this paper was what we needed to stay in Serbia, but it was not the paper we need. This paper said we should leave Serbia in two days. Therefore, I wasn’t able to stay at a hotel in Belgrade. I had to travel to a suburb to find a hotel.

         We traveled up from the border to the capital, Belgrade, by bus. I was with my friend, and there were also three people from Syria and one from Iraq. We wanted to sleep, yeah? Suddenly, we hear someone say, “Fuck Islam”. We were next to, we were and what's?

[Interviewer] Next to each other.

[Asem] Next to each other. No one said a word. We were all silent and wanted to rest. This one who said fuck Islam came to one of the people next to me and told one of them give him your papers. He was about 18 years old, not more. He looked at him, and he started to cry. I wanted to sleep, and the others couldn't speak English. I spoke with this man three hours to try to make him change his mind—we are not terrorists, this one is not a terrorist. She wants to go to Germany to complete her studies. There is war in Syria. He told us yeah, they had a war in Serbia, but they stayed here. After three hours, he was convinced and he gave us back our papers. And I told you it was also funny. Before we reached Belgrade, he came to me and told me if we wanted to, we could all sleep with him that night. I told him, oh, really? No, no. Bye-bye.

         When we reached Belgrade, there was also a smuggler who spoke with me; and asked if I wanted to travel with him. I told him no, I don't want to. We then found a hotel. I told you I phoned my Serbian friend. He told me with papers, you would not be able to find a hostel there. We found a hotel in the suburb of Belgrade. It was very expensive. It was about 10 in the evening, and we could only stay in this hotel till 12 the next day. When I woke up at 10 o'clock and went to have breakfast, the receptionist came to us and told us we had to leave right now. I told him we still had two hours, but he told us we had to leave now. We were afraid of the police.

         I went with my friend to the garden. In this garden, there were many refugees who had stayed three or four or maybe more until they could leave Belgrade to go to another city or another country. That was maybe the worst moment that I experienced in this journey because I had little money. I had been under a lot of stress for about 35 days, and I tried not to show this to others. One of our relatives told me when I was in the jail not to worry. When you go out, you will get money from me. He was in Sweden. I found him. He told me he would not be able to send me money. I was really confused because my money was with a friend who waited for me in Serbia; but when I got to Hungary, he had traveled to Germany and was in a camp. I wasn't able to reach him again. I didn't have many choices. I stayed in the garden, I phoned my mother, and I started to cry. That was the first and the last time I did. I really cried, and she told me to be patient. She would try to help me, but how? They also had money issues, and they wouldn't be able to send the money to me in Serbia.

         I tried again to persevere, to concentrate, and I got to the suburbs of Belgrade. Someone told me I would be able to find a hostel in this area. It would be cheap. I walked with my friend and with another man who was about 50 years old. We walked, and walked, and walked, and then we reached a house. The owner of this house spoke only French. I could speak a little bit of French, but his son could also speak English. We spoke English and the son told me the hostel was nearby, but offered to let us stay with them. We could pay 20 euros for one night—everyone of us could stay there for 20 euros a night. I told him, okay, it's a good deal. I'll stay here. It was also a time when I wanted to have a rest, and he had a mother and family there. I missed my family, you know?

[Interviewer] Mm-hmm.

[Asem] At those moments, I had this feeling again that this also could be my family. I spoke with him. He had worked in Germany, he could speak a little bit Germany, and I could speak a little German. After three days, the son give me a pair of pants. I told you I had only shorts.


[Interviewer] The shorts.

[Asem] And he went with us to buy some things we needed. I didn't have a lot of money; but I was able to reach this friend in Germany, and he sent me the money. Now I needed to again find a smuggler. This smuggler took 100 euro from me like a guarantee.

[Interviewer] A guarantee.

[Asem] A guarantee.

[Interviewer] Down payment.

[Asem] Yeah, yeah. I phoned him. I told him I knew how bad he was. He told me he knew. He had tried to reach me all over in Hungary, but wasn't able to. He said he phoned many jails. He was a liar. I know that. I told him that I would travel with him again because I didn't have a lot of money. Would he be able to help me? He told me to meet him in the center of Belgrade, and we would talk about that. He was from Syria. He was not a smuggler; he was a hand. He was a person who brought you to another person.

[Interviewer] Yes.

[Asem] He was kind of in the middle. He was a connector.

[Interviewer] Connector?

[Asem] Yes. I told him I didn't have many choices. I would travel with him again, but he should

give me a discount and give me back the 100 euros. He laughed and told me okay, okay, he would do that. We again went in his car to the border with Hungary. We walked in the forest again six hours. We reached their car again. We go in the car. It was a small car. We were 27 people in three cars. The cars were small. We also had kids. I was with four people and there were eight people in the same car. You know?

[Interviewer] Mm-hmm.

[Asem] There were no seats. It was steel, but I was happy. I would be able to reach

Germany. We traveled in the car, and we reach the highway. Then I told myself now I can sleep, and I slept. After one hour, I was suddenly wakened. I saw the other car in front of me. We had a crash. The two drivers drank a lot. They drove about 200 kilometers per hour, and we had an accident. One of my friends broke his leg.

[Interviewer] His leg?

[Asem] Yeah. He wouldn't be able to go on, and I got out. I didn't think of my wounds.

[Interviewer] Your wounds, on you? Uh-huh.

[Asem] Yeah, yeah, I didn't think of those. I thought of only one thing, police. There were, I told you, about 20 people—some came from Iraq, some from Syria. We ran on the highway. It was very, very dangerous. We reached a small forest. We stayed in this forest again about 14 hours. One of us had hurt his back, and he really was in pain. He told me the whole time that he would like to go to the police. He was not able to go on; and I told him please, don't do that. I had been in the jail, and I knew how it bad it was.

         After 12 hours, the smuggler reached one of the people who was with us, and he told him that he would send us two people with a bus. We could travel with him. I wondered why he didn’t do that the first time; he didn't do anything then. He let us to go to the jail. I was wondering, but I later discovered why. After one hour two people came. They had a scissor because we were in a forest with....

[Interviewer] Mm-hm, yeah. It's with a fence?

[Asem] Yeah, with a fence. They cut that with the scissor and then we went on our way, which I think no one had come this way in 14 or 15 years.

[Interviewer] Mm-hmm, yeah.

[Asem] These two people came from Serbia and were in the army. They told us all to get in a bus, and we would travel on the bus to the Wien. We got onto the bus where we found food and drinks. I wondered why. It seemed strange, but I was happy. Now we have the bus. We could travel again. The bus driver told us he saw our accident yesterday. He was in a car on the highway and saw our accident. We traveled in the bus, and I was curious. I asked a man from Iraq why this smuggler did this.

[Interviewer] Mm-hmm.

[Asem] The smuggler did all of the stuff and organized all this stuff. I should ask you about the time. It's okay to....

[Interviewer] I'd like you to finish your story.

[Asem] Yeah, and we traveled with this bus. We arrived in Wien about eight o'clock in the evening, and I was curious. I asked one person on the street in German. I could speak a little bit of German. It was also dangerous, but it had been about 30 days. How can I? 

[Interviewer] It didn't matter anymore.


[Asem] Yeah, it didn't matter what happened then; it didn't matter. I would go on. It encouraged me also to do many things here in Germany because I had experienced so many bad things. I spoke of the smugglers. These are the worst people you could meet in your life. They didn't care about your life. They didn't care. They cared only about money. In Wien, we found a hotel. I went with my friend. We had a shower, and next day I went on the streets in Wien. I bought phone cards. I wanted to go to Germany, so I phoned one friend in Berlin. He told me I should go to Berlin. I told him okay; but I had no experience at a train station, and how can I get a ticket. He told me it's no problem. Tomorrow at two o'clock afternoon, I was to go to the train station. My train would leave at two o'clock. I should not spend a lot of time at that train station because of the police. Police are always dangerous. I told him okay, and I went to the train station. I reach it, and I stood there in front of a machine. I tried to find my ticket. I was not able to do that. I phoned him again. I said, what's the problem? He told me do you see anyone around you? I told him yeah, there's a woman. He phoned her and she told him that you can only buy it in the center and not with the machine. I went to the center, but there is no more time. He told me okay. This train travels only at two o'clock afternoon and at six o'clock morning. Therefore, I should go again to the hotel; but I should buy my ticket first. I went to buy my ticket; then he phoned me. He told me there was a train to Frankfurt at four o'clock, and to take that. But I knew no one in Frankfurt. He told me there is a family that will wait for you there. Okay. I bought a ticket and I had two hours to wait. There were also many policemen in this station. What should I do? I went to a cafe. I had a newspaper and I opened it like that. I wasn't able to read a word, but I did, and I drank my cafe. After two hours, I went to the gate. I got on my train, and I sat down. I bought this telephone card to use also in Germany, but I couldn't use it anymore after two hours. Why I don't know. I was in Germany, and all my friends would try to reach me by phone. They wouldn't be able to do that. I reached Frankfurt that evening. I had a big surprise. The people who waited for me came from my hometown.

[Interviewer] Really?

[Asem] Really. 

[Interviewer] Oh my gosh.

[Asem] They were also my friends. 

[Interviewer] Really?

[Asem] Yeah, they were. 

[Interviewer] In Frankfurt?

[Asem] In Frankfurt. There were four or five people.

[Interviewer] Wow.

[Asem] I had really long hair then. I had only the clothing I wore because I exchanged the pants

which I got from that man on the trip from Serbia to Hungary; and in the forest all of the stuff got dirty. I wanted to change then. I told them my story, which I told you now, and they looked at me. “Did you experience all of this stuff?” Yeah. They didn't believe that. That was the journey. It was about 43 days, I think, and now came one extra step. I should choose a camp to go to. All of the group reached Germany. One was here in Horst. It is in Boizenburg. You know this city?

[Interviewer] Yes.

[Asem] He phoned me, and he told me to go there. I told him, okay, I would go there. I spent three days in Frankfurt, and then I went to Hamburg on a bus. It was really funny and a little bit sad, but when I were leaving Frankfurt, my friend and I wanted to take a train because I could buy a phone card and a bag; and we could do both in a short time. He agreed we should take the train. Come, come, come. We went onto the train; and after we went onto it, he didn’t like it. What's the problem? Oh, the control. Okay. I asked if he had a ticket. He said no, he didn't have a ticket. He asked why he needed a ticket, and I said because you need one.

[Interviewer] Yeah, yeah.


[Asem] He told me well, we could pay 60 euros at least. I was afraid that I would go to the jail again. No, I didn't want to try jail here in Germany. I tried them in Serbia and Hungary. He told me okay, we will see. The conductor came to me and asked me immediately. He knew that I was a stranger. Where are your papers? I told him I have no papers. Where is your ticket? I have no ticket. Okay, well we should leave. My friend spoke with him in German, and he was convinced to let me go, but I had to pay 60 euros. That was the first 60 euros that I paid here in Germany. I reached Hamburg and then traveled to Horst. In Horst, because it was very famous that it's....

[Interviewer] It's fast.

[Asem] It's fast. Many people came to this camp and stayed at it. Therefore, we weren't able to into this camp. We should stay....

[Interviewer] Mm-hmm, outside.

[Asem] Outside, yeah, we should stay outside. After one day, we went to another camp in the

neighborhood, and then all of us transferred. My transfer was to Bielefeld in North Rhine- Westphalia. I had to go to Hamburg first. On the way to Hamburg, I told you, it didn't matter what it happen.

[Interviewer] Yeah, whatever happens.

[Asem] I looked from the window, and I didn't want to go to Bielefeld. I had the transfer and the

ticket, and I threw them from the window; and I stayed in Hamburg. I went to another camp near Hamburg. It's Hamburg, and there were many people in this camp. I had to sleep on the ground for three days, but then I got another transfer. This time instead, you know where I should go?

 [Interviewer] Where?

[Asem] Again to Horst. But now legally. I went to Horst. They let me go, and I stay in Horst about 20 days. No, in Horst, about 12 days. At the beginning when I was in Horst, I met one policeman and one security man. We spoke in German, and he was surprised that I could speak a little bit German. I saw him again in Horst a second time. I didn't want him to see me because I was illegal the first time here and he knew that I had a transfer to Bielefeld.

         What was I to do here? In Horst, I started to think about my future, and I met many people. I tried also to learn, to teach some people about German grammar—the little bit I could at that time; and it was also a process. I came at first to Horst, and then I came to Schwerin. I went from one city to another city to Schwerin. That was the third station which all the refugees would have at this time. Now it's a little bit different.

         I went to Schwerin for about 13 days, and it was boring. I didn’t do anything. I tried to play a sport the first week, and then I heard there was a campaign at this camp to have clothing storage. Many refugees who came here, like me, didn't have clothing; and there were many German people who wanted to organize this clothing storage. One of them was Claus. I met him, and it was really funny. I came to this camp storage and they wrote with many words about the clothing, but many of the words were wrong in the translation to Arabic. I told him it was wrong. Then one of the people asked me, how I could do that. How could I understand that? I told him I understand a little bit German, and they said I should help them. Then I stayed in this camp working with this storage. I helped them but I got a transfer to Rostock.

[Interviewer] Rostock.

[Asem] Yes, but one of my friend heard that, and he phoned someone. I don't know who. I waited for the bus, and after one hour, it came. One of my relatives was also in Rostock and he was waiting. He was happy to see me again; but I heard my name. I had to go to the information center. I went there, and a woman told me I should stay here; but I waited for my bus. I said I should go to Rostock; but she said no, no, you should stay here. Okay, as you like. It was, I think, a Thursday. Then I stayed here. I heard my name again, and I was told to go to the sport hall. I went there, and I saw a person there. He was with a suit....

[Interviewer] A suit?

[Asem] Yeah, and it looked like he was an important man. He spoke a little bit with me in German. He asked me what I wanted to do here; what's my goals? I told him I want to go to North Rhine-Westphalia because I have many relatives there. He told me okay, but I could stay a little while here first. Okay, why? He said I would learn that. Okay. I went again to my friend at the storage area. One of them waited for me. He asked how was it; “tell me” I asked him why are you excited?

[Interviewer] Excited?

[Asem] Excited. He asked me, if I don't know who I spoke to. I told him no. Who was this man?

He told me he was inner minister from Mecklenburg-Vorpommern. I told him really? Yes. He asked what he told me. He told me that someone will phone me, and he told me something about work or something like that, and he was this bureau manager. He phoned me in one hour, and he told me that I had interview on Monday. It was Friday.

[Interviewer] On Monday.

[Asem] On Monday. I told him okay. What's the matter; what should I do? He said we would talk about that. I had a long hair; I had no clothes. One of my friends, Christine, told me okay, she had an appointment with a barber shop. We went to this one. I went there, and I got also clothes from my friend. Then I went to Schwerin on Saturday. I had all my things in the room, and I told myself I will come back on Monday. That was my imagination. I went to Schwerin. I had this interview with the real manager; and he told me okay, you can start work with us. What do you mean? How could I do that? Yeah, yeah. He said I would start working with us as a translator and supporter. I told him okay. It's really amazing; but okay I’ll do that Then a German person came to me and told me that he had a flat here in Schwerin and I would be able to stay with him if I wanted. I did stay with him, and I started my work immediately. From the camp, from the jail to the....

[Interviewer] Really?

[Asem] Yeah.

[Interviewer] Yes.

[Asem] I did that, I can say that. 

[Interviewer] Wow.

[Asem] I have many memories with many friends. I met more than 100 people. I still know many of them now; but I have strong connections with Klaus and Almut—good memories which I still have. When you visit our website, you will see a photo with many names. We have all names there.

[Interviewer] Yes.

[Asem] Yes. And after the work, we put them on the wall.

[Interviewer] On the wall?

[Asem] Yeah, you can see this picture. I visit this website again and again; and when I see this picture, the memories come.

[Interviewer] Come?

[Asem] You know....


[Interviewer] Mm-hmm.

[Asem] My work was to visit the camp. Many refugees wanted to know about their future, about

the decisions to be made. There were many questions; they wanted information. I visited many cities and many villages here in Mecklenburg-Vorpommern that many other people from here didn't visit. I told some friends I visited.... What is it?

[Interviewer] Mm-hmm.

[Asem] I really, really traveled. I was always traveling. Do you have a question? 

[Interviewer] Yes, I was just going to take some time to think about your story that you just

shared because it's quite a story; and I'm wondering if we could just take a few minutes more to ask you to share maybe three things that you learned from that and that you carry with you?

[Asem] From my trip, you mean?

[Interviewer] From your journey here because you started in Syria and a have a tremendous story

of how you got to this area and you started your work. That's a story in itself that I think it's going to be really powerful to share with people. And if you could share with the students who will be seeing this video and with the faculty who might be seeing this video—from just this story. I'd also like to continue the story another time to see where you went from there, but if we could just take this chapter of your story, what three things would you want people to know about what you experienced?

[Asem] At first, I think we should not give up.

[Interviewer] Don't give up.

[Asem] Yeah. Second, there are many things in the world which we don't know, many sights of

life which we don't know. I discovered some of them on my trip, on my journey. There's still many of them that I can discover. Be courageous and patient.

[Interviewer] Be patient and courageous.

[Asem] Yeah, be patient and courageous. Patience is the most important thing that you have in

the life. Sometimes you think yeah, I should give up. There is no chance. I thought this again and again on my journey, but I didn't make this decision to give up because I had no choice. I had to go on.

[Interviewer] And Asem, if we could continue this story, which I would like to do, and you could put a title to this chapter of your story, what would it be?

[Asem] Okay. It's an interesting question. Challenges teach. 

[Interviewer] Challenges teach.

[Asem] I don't have any, an analogy to now, but... 

[Interviewer] Yep, challenges teach.

[Asem] Yeah, challenges teach.

[Interviewer] What if we end our session today with a chapter of your story about how challenges teach?

[Asem] What do you mean?

[Interviewer] Well, we will continue the story at another time from now, your time in Schwerin until now, and we'll take this chapter called Challenges Teach and take a pause.

[Asem] Yeah 

[Interviewer] How does that sound?

[Asem] It's okay. It's very good.

[Interviewer] Thank you. Thank you. Thank you for sharing. 

[Asem] I am thankful.

[Interviewer] You're thankful. I am thankful too.

[Asem] Yes.

[Interviewer] Thank you.

[Asem] You're welcome.

[Interviewer] All right.

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