Wednesday 13, February 2013
TIMISOARA, 13 February 2013 (UNHCR) – Seeking refuge from wars in their neighboring homelands, Jamal* and Omar* now share a dormitory in a Romanian reception center and the daily trials and occasional joys of life in a new country.
Jamal arrived at the centre in the city of Timisoara from Syria in September 2012, escaping a civil war that has caused more than 800,000 people to register as refugees in nearby countries, according to UNHCR statistics. Several hundred Syrians have sought asylum in Romania since the fighting began in 2011.
Omar arrived from Iraq in March 2012. The war in his country began back in 2003, but the country is still ravaged by sectarian violence.
Both men are waiting for Romania to make a final decision on their status, and hope for a positive outcome that would allow them to live and work here and to travel all over Europe.
But for now, they live in a state of limbo.
Both men are 33-year-old university graduates, and they also share similar stories of escape from their homelands — as do the other four asylum-seekers with whom they share their dormitory in Timisoara.
All the men paid shadowy networks of people-smugglers to transport them from the heart of the Middle East to the eastern edge of the European Union.
Escaping a conflict that killed members of his family and endangered the lives of his wife and children, Jamal took only a small bag with him on the treacherous journey that ended at Timisoara, one of Romania’s six reception centers. Like other asylum-seekers in Romania he receives just 108 lei (USD 32) each month from the state.
A sociologist who worked for a UN agency dealing with gender violence in Damascus, Jamal now spends most of his days helping out at a Syrian-owned carpet shop in a suburb of Timisoara.
“I come here to get out of the camp, where you could go crazy,” says Jamal.
Jamal’s life is a far cry from what it used to be, but he values the refuge that Romania offers and dreams of being reunited with his wife and three-year-old daughter and twenty-month-old son.
“This experience didn’t break me. I want to build a good future for my family. I want to take them out of Syria because I know the violence won’t stop,” he says.
“There has been too much violence but I’m looking to the future now. I don’t want my daughter to see blood on the streets, or hear news of the horrors that happen in our country.”
When Jamal arrived in Timisoara, hungry and tired after walking from Serbia, it was his new Iraqi friend who provided him with food and solace.
Omar, a former teacher who taught tour-guiding at one of the oldest universities in Baghdad, owns a laptop – a rare sight in the camp where most people arrive with little more than the clothes on their backs.
From his savings, he also pays for most of the food that the six roommates share, standing around a table in their dormitory.
But despite having a little more to live on than his roommates, Omar seems weary after spending many years far from home.
He left Iraq in 2005 after his father, a senior officer in Saddam Hussein’s army, disappeared and one of his brothers was killed. His mother, his surviving brother and three sisters fled to Egypt and now live in a refugee camp there.
He keeps in touch with his family through Skype, but does not share the hard details of his life with them.
“I never turn on the camera on my computer, because I don’t want my mother seeing me like this, with all these bunk beds around me,“ he says.
After spending several years of asylum in England, in 2010 Omar was sent back to Iraq, and say was kidnapped and held hostage for three months.
In January 2012, he followed a similar route to Jamal in illegally crossing through Turkey, Greece, Macedonia and Serbia on his way to Romania.
“I haven’t seen my mother for seven years,” says Omar. “This is the first thing I want to do once I can travel freely again.”
Jamal’s days also begin and end with thoughts of his family, as he lies in his bunk looking up at photographs of his children that are stuck in the metal frame of the bed above him.
“I blame myself now for getting upset with them sometimes, when they were naughty or crying when I was watching television,” Jamal says with a sad smile.
“I swear to God, I will not spend a single moment without my wife and kids once we are back together.”
By Andreea Anca in Timisoara, Romania
* Names changed for protection reasons