The happy end of another refugee story

Mr. Nuri’s lessons on patience

The closure of the Balkan route has separated many families: some of them have stayed in Greece, Macedonia or Serbia, whereas others reached the EU countires and it was difficult to work on their family reunification.

If someone has ever taught me patience, that would be Mr. Nuri Shtaad. He is a 60-year-old engineer from Aleppo, Syria. He came to Macedonia by taking the last train that was transporting refugees to Europe. Unfortunately, that last train didn’t leave Macedonia, and Mr. Nuri, together with other 1500 refugees, got stranded in the Transit Centre of Vinojug, Gevgelija.

The closure of the Balkan route has separated many families: some of them have stayed in Greece, Macedonia or Serbia, whereas others reached the EU countries. It was difficult to work on their family reunification. Several families had been successfully reunited; those who had more money had paid smugglers to help them cross the closed borders, whereas many families had given up and gone back to Greece so they could reach the EU through the system of relocation and meet with their family members.

After having sent his wife and 4 kids to Germany, Nuri had been waiting patiently at his home in Aleppo, hoping the situation would improve and peace would be restored. However, that never happened. Life conditions had worsened and security got riskier. It was then when he had decided to go after his family, and had passed through Turkey and crossed the raging Aegean Sea, he had arrived in Greece. There he was waiting patiently for his turn to enter Macedonia, because at that time there were many restrictions and the number of refugees crossing was more than 1000 per day. He thought that the gate to Europe had opened when entered Macedonia. But, unfortunately, the route closed and he was left alone in an unknown country.

Learning German

In the refugee center in Gevgelija, he was placed in the last container, beside the railway. But not with the intention of being first, if in case the train came – which it never did. He was low-key, very often worried, but always smiling at every conversation. Contrary to the others, he wasn’t demanding, but was very content with that which he had. When offered clothes or food, he would thank people and take only if there was enough food/clothes for everyone, not just for him. The only thing he asked us was a book to learn German. 

The mother of our coordinator made sure that she found the book through her professor colleague. And he didn’t wait for official courses to start. He started learning himself. He spent his time near the railway learning German or talking to his relatives. In addition, he asked for another book. And after that for a third one. He read five books. While the first one, he had already read ten times. I often spoke to him in German, just to check at what level he had reached. And I would say: “When you’ll arrive in Germany, your children will be proud of you. Then you’ll compete who has learned the language better.”  

He showed me a picture of his home, which had been destroyed while he was residing in Macedonia. “While I was there, I put plastic bags on the broken windows, but now it’s gone. It’s been ruined completely…”, he said, his voice quivering. He was worried when he was talking about his family, and I comforted him: “Nuri, look around you. Many have lost their parents, brothers, sisters, children. What can they say? Your children are safe in Germany, and if God will, you will get to see that day when you embrace them again.

 “That’s right. But it took a long time. God give me and my people patience.”

When we finished our daily activities, we would stay more in his company to listen to his wisdom, experience, and perception of the world.

Because he didn’t have passport, his procedure got complicated. We have all lobbied in different places. At our institutions, and at the German Embassy. At the penultimate reception I spoke to the diplomat for the visa questions at the German Embassy in Macedonia. He promised me he would end the procedure for two weeks. “ You German people are very precise, Herr Thomas. I hope that we will not wait longer than that.” 

And, barely two weeks had passed before news of the visa reached. I went to see him and he was playing OK at the table. He didn’t recognize me at first, since I was not wearing my uniform, but he didn’t expect guests that late.

 “I came to say congratulations, and you don’t recognise me. You are leaving and now you do not care about us”, I joked.

 “I could not believe my eyes when I saw the passport and visa, Jasmin. My mind doesn’t believe me while my heart is jumping happily.

The heppy end of another refugee story

He celebrated his last day at the transit centre with everyone, preparing traditional Syrian cookies.

In addition, after having spent 16 months in Macedonia without having seen his family, we are sitting and talking over a cup of coffee in the Old Bazaar of Skopje where he is having his last coffee during his last day in Macedonia: “See, Nuri, that day has come. I am glad you could see my hometown, to see that Macedonia is not only tents and containers surrounded by high fence. I hope you don’t forget us.”

 “I am happy, Jasmin. I am glad I am finally going to my family, but I do not find it easy because of the lots of good people I had met in Macedonia.  Everyone has been so nice and calm. When you come to Germany, know that you have a family of your own there – my family members and me. A new life had started for me in Macedonia that I have to continue in Germany. I must perfect the German language, and then translate for or help other refugees with their integration. I must work for my people there, the same that you did for me in Macedonia. Your Bazaar resembles the one of Aleppo. I am glad you have preserved it. I do not know if there is anything left of my bazaar now. Please, once again, thank everyone on my behalf for being so good to me”, Nuri said.

Thus has finished yet another long refugee story. At a time when walls are being built around Europe, where many are taking risks and losing their personal belongings and lives for a safer future, Nuri has won patiently all of the complicated administrative procedures and had arrived in Dortmund safe and sound where his family welcomed him.

We are proud of having met him and his being part of our lives and worries all this time. It was as if I had borne a burden, a great responsibility, until he arrived and met his family. Some would say that it is against the principles to get attached to your clients, but they never were clients. They did not represent some work to us, but people whom we as people had to help, as we would expect the same if we found ourselves in the same situation, and that would continue in the generations to come.

Source: Al Jazeera