Ahmad (35) talks about his escape from Syria

I was born and grew up in Qamishli in northern Syria on the border with Turkey. I went to school there for twelve years. When I was thirteen I started working for an electrician after school. It was nice and interesting work and I learned a lot and also made good money, sometimes $100 a month. I worked there for between eight and nine years, mostly in the evenings until 9:00 p.m. Later, of course, I earned more, around 500 dollars a month. I have taught myself many things by looking at them on the internet and have also been able to work independently. Once I installed the electrical system in an entire dental practice for a Chinese company by myself. They gave me a plan and I worked from it. That was no problem. At school I fixed the computers. Of course I did that for free.

I had a teacher who supported me and advised me to go to university. I studied commerce and economics in Aleppo for four years until the war came and ended my university career. Almost all of my certificates and papers from the university were lost as a result of the war. Even before the war, I lived in Damascus rather than Aleppo, and I always commuted to Aleppo to study. In Damascus I also had work as an electrician. I then stayed there, I lived and worked alone in Damascus for a total of ten years, once for a year for a Russian company and the rest of the time independently. I made good money, had a good life, could afford a nice car and even thought about buying a house. But then the war ruined everything. At first I thought the madness would be over in a year or two, but it just didn't end.

In 2018 I went back to Qamishli, since Qamishli was largely in Kurdish hands, there were repeated bombardments by the Turkish army, which allegedly hunted down terrorists. I've seen people lying in the streets, corpses without heads, with their legs and feet torn off. A truck was once blown up in a bomb attack. I found an old woman on the street who was still alive, picked her up and drove my car to the hospital. Then she died there. After that I couldn't sleep properly for weeks and for the first time I had the thought that I might be able to leave my homeland.


When I needed a new passport, I had to go to the authorities in Qamishli. Three months later the police came and wanted to recruit me as a fighter for Assad's troops. Luckily I wasn't at home and my father put her off. When they were gone he called me and said not to come home. I then hid with an uncle. In the meantime my father organized my escape. I don't know exactly how he did it, but he had a lot of contacts. After a month everything was ready. I packed my bag and kissed my parents and siblings goodbye. Since then I haven't seen her again.

Together with five other adults and two children of about twelve or thirteen we crossed the border on foot. We waited about eight hours in a small village, then a Turk came in a big car and took us to Izmir. We stayed in a house there for a day, then we continued to Istanbul in another car. I was able to stay with my older brother for twenty days, who had lived there for a long time and had valid papers. Then I had to go. A man took me to another apartment, where I stayed for a month and a half. My father organized it all.

In the end we were a large group in this apartment, seven women and five other men besides me. A small van with no seats came and picked us up. We had to drop off our phones and climb into the hold. After an hour and a half, the car stopped at a freeway parking lot and we had to transfer to a truck. We also had an elderly woman in her 60s who couldn't walk very well and I helped her into the car.

The wagon was full of pine trees to be sold as Christmas trees. We were trapped between them, had to sit on the floor and had hardly any space or air to breathe. I was afraid, but the old woman calmed me down and encouraged me. We were only provided with basic food, a bit of bread and a few dates and it was cold and we were all wearing only jeans and T-shirts and were freezing miserably. We were locked in like this for sixteen hours.

Then there was a short break, maybe a quarter of an hour. We had no idea where we were. After that we were locked in again and drove another eight hours.

Finally we stopped abruptly, the doors flew open and we were standing in the middle of the countryside, no houses, no trees, nothing. It was snowy and cold and one of the men made a joke and said, "Have a nice trip!" and then they left us and drove away.

After less than an hour an old van came, we squeezed into the seats and drove about nine or ten hours. In the evening we came to a detached house, probably an old farm. There we got food and were allowed to make a short call with someone else's mobile phone that was given to us. I spoke to my father on the phone and he reassured me and said everything would be fine. All in all, I stayed in this house with the other men for a week; the women, including the nice old 60-year-old lady, were taken away earlier. I found out later that we had been to Romania, near Timisoara.

We men were then picked up in a small bus that had seven seats. In addition to the driver, the touts included another young man and woman in their mid-twenties. They sat in the front, but we were supposed to climb into a wooden box in the back of the hold because there were so many dangerous checks at the moment. But it would only take an hour. I protested, but my fellow sufferers said it wouldn't last long, so I finally gave in. We had to strip down to our underpants because it was very hot in the box and we could only sit very close together. When we were all inside, they nailed the box over us and covered it with rugs as well. It was like being in a coffin. We were short of air and water and remained confined for about 3 hours. Then we took a fifteen minute break in a freeway parking lot. We got something to drink, were allowed to smoke and could move around a bit. Although everything was supposed to last only an hour, we had to go back to the box. They said it wouldn't be for long, we'd be there soon.


But it went on for hours. We were all drenched in sweat and very scared because we couldn't breathe. It was dark and we couldn't check the clock and lost all sense of time. The heat was becoming unbearable. One of the other men passed out and I thought he was dead and I panicked. I started shaking and couldn't control myself anymore. So I banged madly on the lid of the coffin, because that really seemed to be the box now. I just wanted to get out of this grave. I don't know where I got the power from anyway, but the lid finally seemed to crack and that's when they actually let me out. But only me because I was the troublemaker and they were afraid I would expose them.


I said, "I don't care, I just want to get out." They gave me water and also an ice-cold coffee and a cigarette. Then they said: “You have reached your goal! The others will continue to drive.”

I had to get out of the car and got my pants and shirt back. I also wanted my cell phone. So the older of the two men looked for my smartphone from all the cell phones that had been collected, but before he gave it to me he deleted all the data.

I still had 25 euros in my pocket, nothing else. My flight had cost a lot of money, 2,600 dollars just for the trip from Syria to Turkey, the rest another 9,500 euros. It was a cool May evening. At least the young woman felt a little sorry and gave me an old worn jacket. It was May 17, 2020, I had arrived in Augsburg, but I didn't know that at the moment.

At first I ran around completely aimlessly, finally got on the next best train and then came out at Königsplatz. There I overheard two men speaking Arabic. However, they were afraid to associate with me because I was illegal and undocumented. At least they told me how to get to the train station, because I wanted to report to the police and hoped to find an officer there. I searched in vain. But the station bookstore helped me. The man at the cash register called someone, a Jew who spoke Arabic and he was very friendly to me and also took me to the police station.

There they got a translator who spoke Kurdish, I was examined, subjected to a body search, which I found quite unpleasant, and I was also given a temporary ID card. I was supposed to report to a so-called initial reception facility. They gave me the address and just wanted to send me off like that. I complained that I didn't know my way around, but one of the police officers just said: "You came here alone from Syria, and now you can't find your way into the camp on your own!?"

So I got into a taxi and spent 20 of my remaining 25 euros to go to the first reception in Lechhausen. After just two days I was transferred to another facility, first in Augsburg and later also in Gablingen. Unfortunately, that was in the middle of the Corona period and we were not allowed to leave the house. I was in Gablingen for a total of fourteen days, then I came to Ulm. I was there for two months and was finally allowed to leave the refugee accommodation and go for a walk. In November 2021, I came from Ulm to the facility in Gersthofen, where I am still registered, but I don’t actually stay there very often anymore.


It was a wonderful coincidence that two months after I had been relocated to Gersthofen, I went for a walk in the botanical garden in Augsburg and met my current wife. We've known each other since we went to school together in Qamishli, but then lost touch. I had no idea that she had been in Germany with her entire family for seven years. They are all already very well integrated, almost all have German citizenship, she even did a C1 course and passed the exam, and one of her brothers has a great restaurant in Rosenheim.

She and I then met regularly, got married according to Muslim tradition and now have a nine-month-old son of whom we are very proud. The civil marriage is still pending because we still need papers from Syria and it's not that easy to get them. My own family, my parents, my three sisters and one of my brothers are still in Syria and of course I am in regular contact with them. Unfortunately it is not possible for them to come to Germany. But luckily I've found a new family here. My wife and I are looking for a new, larger apartment, but finding an apartment is not only difficult for us at the moment.

I have been attending an integration course for a few months and hope to pass the B1 exam soon. Then I would first like to get my driving license and work for a while. I've already done an internship with an electrician who assured me that he could use me very well. But you need a driver's license and a better knowledge of German. In the long term I might also want to do an apprenticeship. I definitely see good prospects for myself because I'm used to working independently, have lots of ideas and am also good with computers.

In order to get more contact with Germans, I worked for a few months as a volunteer at Caritas. But now they don't need anyone there anymore. An older lady who I like to talk to gave me the tip to try joining the volunteer fire brigade. What she said sounded good and I think I'll give it a try.

My German still needs to get better, but I'm glad that I can now do a lot of things on my own: fill out forms, make appointments and also go and talk to appointments by myself. That's not bad.

If I had to give other refugees one piece of advice, it would be that it is very important to learn a lot, especially the language. So you have all the options here.

Germany has already become something of a second home for me. I think the people here are all very friendly and laugh a lot. I like that. Above all, there is no tyranny and no injustice here. My son is very important to me. Parents teach children morals about what is right and wrong in life. And I want to be a good father to my son.



Thank you Ahmad for having the courage to tell this story here!