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Coder who fled Syria launches a new life in Serbia


Coder who fled Syria launches a new life in Serbia

Trained in Aleppo as a computer programmer, Mawaheb found that his tech skills offered a way to fit in – and give back – in Belgrade.
9 April 2019

Mawaheb Seraj came to Serbia as a refugee with a hope, a dream and a cat. Now he has fulfilled his hope of finding the right job, met the woman of his dreams and his cat has a new companion: a dog.

Refugees often find it difficult to integrate in a new society, but Mawaheb had two crucial advantages: He is a computer programmer, and that skill can be transferred from country to country. In addition, he spoke English, a global tech language.

“It is my good luck to be a programmer,” he says. “I know other educated refugees like doctors and lawyers have to learn the local language and modify their qualifications.”

Mawaheb studied programming at university in Aleppo, Syria, but war forced him to flee in 2012. He went to Turkey and then Serbia, where he rented a flat in Belgrade for himself and his cat Fidel.

He had a long wait, but once he got full refugee status he was eligible to apply for jobs. He soon found one with IPS Energy, a global company that finds digital solutions for the energy industry.

"He was the best fit ... Where he came from was irrelevant.”

“We scouted out some 20 candidates and chose Mawaheb,” says Ivan Petkoski, who manages the firm’s branch in Serbia. “He was the best fit because of his skills and previous work. Where he came from was irrelevant.”

Petkoski was surprised at how well Mawaheb spoke Serbian, although it was not a requirement for the job.

The secret to his fluency probably lay in Mawaheb’s chance meeting with a woman in a park one winter day two years ago. She was walking her Jack Russell terrier.

“It was a cold day and I was walking Lulu,” says Ida, now 34, a Serbian costume designer and illustrator. “From the moment Mawaheb and I met, we were together all the time. We felt as if we knew each other.”

In June 2018 they had a Serbian civil wedding, followed by a Muslim ceremony.

The couple had found love, but at first things were tense between Fidel and Lulu – so much so that the pets had to be kept in separate flats. Now they are together in the newly-weds’ spacious apartment. And Lulu has even had a litter of six puppies.

Success as a programmer has given Mawaheb a platform to settle in easily in Serbia and an opportunity to give back in a new land.