The Story of Safwat a Syrian Refugee & His Family

Left to Right: Jihad, Rama & Safwat inside Tabanovce Refugee Transit Camp, Macedonia Taken by a volunteer at Tabanovce
Left to Right: Jihad, Rama & Safwat inside Tabanovce Refugee Transit Camp, Macedonia
Taken by a volunteer at Tabanovce

The Story of Safwat a Syrian Refugee & His Family

I met Safwat back in February 2016, when I was volunteering at Kara Tepe Refugee Camp on the Greek island of Lesvos…  We instantly formed a friendship, he spoke fluent English and was able to help me help other refugees on the camp that could not understand English, Safwat became my interpreter, instead of getting his own sleeping bag and food, he stayed on a cold night to help me help the refugees who could not understand me so I could give them clothing and sleeping bags.

It was late at night and cold, but he stayed and helped instead of thinking about himself…  I had met Safwat earlier that day when he came to me very worried about what the rules were about staying in Greece on his way into Europe and how to sort a ferry ticket to Athens.  I went in search of the information as this is what I was there for, to help the refugees in the camp.  I returned with all the right information and put his mind at ease, for this he wanted to help me, even though it was a cold night and he could easily have gone back to his hut and sleep.  This is Safwat, he thinks of others before himself.

Safwat is 25yrs old, He was studying Law in his home city of Aleppo, he only had one year left of study, along with two years of practicing law shadowing a qualified lawyer and he would have qualified to be a lawyer.  He along with his family also owned two successful businesses in the city, his dad owned a well known Grocery Store and he and his brother ran a successful Sound and Light Engineering Company.

Safwat’s hobbies and likes, music etc

  • Loves to watch and take part in sports
  • Safwat’s favourite sport is athletics and shot putt is his favourite discipline
  • Safwat once won Silver Medal at a Syrian Regional Weight Lifting Competition where he lifted 275kg in a dead lift at the age of 19yrs old
  • Loves watching movies – His favourite actors are Alpachino and De Niro
  • Loves reading books – Favourite books are Roman Empire and Sherlock Holmes
  • Favourite TV Show – Top Gear
Safwat and family back in Aleppo before the war in Syria
Safwat and family back in Aleppo before the war in Syria

Safwat left first due to the fact he was coming of age to be forced to join the Syrian Army as a conscripted soldier (In Syria at 18yrs old you are conscripted into the army unless you go to University where you would be conscripted later), he did not want to be a soldier and even more so he did not want to turn a weapon on his own people who were being killed by his own government.  At first he left for an area in Syria where he wouldn’t be conscripted but later he had to flee the country to be sure he would not be conscripted to fight against his fellow countrymen.

Safwat fled to Turkey first in the spring of 2015 and reached Turkey with the help of smugglers which took one week.  The cost of using the smugglers was $100US to cover two kilometres.  Whilst in Turkey, Safwat worked in Hatay, he worked in construction where he was ripped off by the construction company manager who didn’t pay him…  Safwat worked for 7months and for the last 4months he was not paid.

Borrowing money off his uncle who was still in Syria, Safwat used a smuggler to get a place on one of the little boats to the island of Lesvos.  He met up with smugglers in Izmir, in Basmana Square out in the open in front of authorities such as police and army where the authorities just turned a blind eye and let it all happen…  Safwat paid the smugglers $650US for himself and his little brother and sister.

Safwat & Rama on the train track outside Tabanovce refugee Transit Camp
Safwat & Rama on the train track outside Tabanovce refugee Transit Camp

The price was cheap because the smuggler got 72 people on the boat.  Safwat met up with the smuggler on the edge of the city where they travelled by minivan to the coast to a small village called Dikile about 100km from Izmir where they would board the little boat.  They got out of the van in the middle of nowhere with no one around and then they walked for 1km through the trees where they were told to wait, police were in the area so they had to wait one hour in the trees…  Once with the boat they had to inflate the boat and secure the engine at the beach.  After one hour the boat was ready they carried the boat to the water they got into the boat.  The driver was actually a refugee himself and because he was driving the boat he got to go free…  The boats engine started to break down several times… after they got over half way the boat started to take on water and the engine stopped and they couldn’t start it back up…  one of the refugees used their phone to call the Greek police that they were drowning in the water and the Greek police – Safwat was given the job of speaking to the police as he was the only one who could speak English and was given instructions to use a ‘whats app’ group to drop a pin on Google maps of their location… With this the greek coast guard found the boat with Safwat and the other 70 refugees were rescued and taken to Lesvos and to safety.

Back in Syria, his family home and businesses had been bombed by Assad and the Russian Military who were bombing Aleppo.  Safwat’s father gave every penny he had left to get the rest of his children out of Syria, this was Safwat’s little Sister Rama and little Brother Jihad.  Safwat’s older brother had already made it to Norway.  Safwat’s father and uncle did not have any more money to leave Syria themselves and sacrificed themselves for the lives of Safwat and his brothers and sister.

Safwat would meet up with Rama and Jihad in Izmir in Turkey where together they got on a little boat along with over 70 other refugees to cross the Aegean Sea to the Island of Lesvos.

Interview with Safwat & Family: 30th April 2016.

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