Paradox Redefined: A 13-year-old letter leads a Refugee to the Netherlands

After the danger got closer to his family, a Syrian man bases the most important decision in his life on an employment letter he received from Eindhoven Sports Club in 2002.

How close the danger was:

“ ‘We apologise for killing your daughter.’ One morning, my uncle and his wife received this letter from the Free Syrian Army.”

“Faulty information has been received upon her situation, we seek your forgiveness and understanding of her blessed position as a martyr.” Although Adel’s wide smile did a good job hiding the sentiment in his eyes, the crack in his voice spoke for itself.

“Adel” is the given name to a 38-year old Syrian professional handball trainer, who arrived to the Netherlands one month ago. He wants to keep his identity anonymous, since his family is still in Syria waiting for the decision on their asylum; therefore, revealing information about his identity threatens their safety.

Adel explains that he was strongly reluctant to leave Syria in the first place, yet the story behind his cousin’s death made him decide that it was not a safe place for his family anymore. His cousin was a computer engineering student, 23, who used to pass through the National Army’s checkpoints everyday on her way to university. The other party suspected that she might be affiliated with them, and killed her.

“The ugliness in this story did not stop after she was killed; even when I was trying to make it to the funeral to be by my family’s side after this tragedy, the National Military blocked my way: ‘There is no way that you can pass; this checkpoint is currently closed. Your cousin’s death and funeral are neither the first ones nor they will be the last,’ said an officer.”

The Paradoxical Letter

Adel explains that after this incident, he opened an old family photos box to look at their good old memories and photos, among which he ran into a letter he received from Eindhoven’s club in 2002. At that time, he briefly considered working outside Syria; out of 36 sports clubs that he wrote to, it was the only one that replied.

“I thought that a place that was respectful to me when I was thousands of kilometers away was worth heading to in such circumstances. If someone had told me at the time that I will base one of the biggest decisions in my life on that letter, I’d have thought they were insane.”

“I didn’t know if I’ll be able to survive the deadly journey, but started studying almost everything about the country; the situation for the refugees, and even the maps and the names of the streets, and that made things easier when I arrived.”

Jet-Setting is not always fun!

Preparing to leave, Adel had to find a safe place for his family outside of “Al Zabadani” the town they grew up and lived in. He used to work there as a coach for the most popular handball team in the country. He also owned a piece of land where he had a hotel, a restaurant, an apple farm, and a house where he was living with his wife, mom, and two daughters (a 2 years old and a 4 months old).

“It wasn’t an easy decision to make whether to take my family at the risk of jumping into unsafe boats, face angry police, and in some cases imprisonment; or leave them in Damascus which is, still relatively safe but like a ticking time bomb. I ended up doing the latter.”

“My trip was easier than average since I travelled among a group of 14 professional sports trainers. One of us had studied in Macedonia. As such, he could communicate well with the Macedonian people. Moreover, our English is okay; the struggle of people who only spoke Arabic was much harder, there was no proper communication and they were almost regarded as aliens.”

zabadany collage
Adel’s hometown “Al Zabadani” before and after 2011. Photo credits to Soha Jaffal
“It’s no one’s fault”

Adel finally made it to the Netherlands, and is currently based in “Jaarbeurs” a temporary refugee shelter in Utrecht. Asked about how he copes with his current situation,  Adel tells a story that shows that the paradox in his life hasn’t come to an end yet.

“I visited a sports club here in Utrecht yesterday; surprisingly, one of the trainers there knew me, we had a 4-months internship together in Germany after my bachelor’s. He introduced me to the people over there, and for a one-hour-time since so long, I felt like a human being again, not a number.”

Adel looked at a bracelet on his left wrist, spaced out for a few seconds, and he suddenly voiced the continuation of the thought that came to his mind:

“It’s not even a number, it’s a date. We’re only identified according to our date of arrival; we are ‘the 19th of July’, and that group is ‘20th of August’ which means that a hundred of people are regarded as one herd, a spoiled one though.”

Adel looked up and swallowed hard after realizing that he said this thought. He rested his shoulders and head on the wall, apologized for the interruption, and got his calmer voice tone back:

“Excuse me for being negative on this part, I’m really grateful that we are welcomed and hosted here, while in the Arab countries we were not. I’m just too impatient to start the process of paying this back.”

He continues to explain where his impatience comes from: “I’m not really at peace with the idea that I’m dependant on the 1100 euros that the government pays for the refugees. While if the bureaucracy just moves a little bit faster, I will be willing to enroll in higher education in my field, work no matter what the type of job is, and in this case I’ll be the one who’s paying taxes and living expenses and contributing to the economy of the country.”

Adel ended up the talk explaining: “You’ll always meet the individuals who’ll make you feel absolutely respected and welcomed. However, generally speaking, being a refugee entitles losing a big part of your dignity; and this is no one’s fault. As one of the popular Arabic poems says:

We find fault with the world, while the faults lie in our own selves.
The world is not at fault; except that we are full of flaws. (Al Shafei).”

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