In January 2017, Artefact met Ferhad in the Ritsona refugee camp in Greece, after his escape from Syria via Turkey. Nine months later we caught up with him and found out how his life had changed since his arrival in Europe…
It is late October when we meet up at Dusseldorf’s Hauptbahnhof, the city’s central station. My train arrives on time; he has just missed his. He has taken the next train, just a few minutes later.
While I am waiting for him, I watch the station. It is a cold, grey day in Dusseldorf. The wind is blowing strongly. But there is a feeling of warmth inside the building: hugs and farewells, kisses and tears; big, welcoming, hand-written posters and genuine smiles. Peoples’ pace is relaxed. Definitely not like London, where I’m used to the hustle and bustle of the big city. A very different kind of grey days.
“Finally here! Where are you?” Ferhad texts me. I am a bit tense. The last time I saw Ferhad was in the Ritsona camp in Greece, nine months ago. Although he has been sending me updates throughout this time, I am nervous about his reaction. So many things have happened to him during the past nine months.
In September 2016 he entered Greece making the crossing from Turkey, and in April 2017 he managed to get asylum. Now, in October, we are meeting in Germany, his new country, his new home.
When I raise my gaze from the phone, I see him waiting in front of a coffee shop, resting his backpack on the floor, looking around. I wave and walk towards him. When he sees me, he rushes to pick his backpack and starts walking with open arms and his usual timid smile.
It is an emotional reunion. I keep having flashbacks from Ritsona, when he was worried about his future, and I was worried about his safety and happiness. I smile at the thought of that farewell we had nine months ago, when Ferhad murmured “everything will work out at the end. Don’t worry about me.” I blush at the thought of him trying to comfort me, while I was going back home and he was staying in a version of his. What a paradox.
There are moments of silence. It just seems unreal that we are meeting again. This time, in Germany. “Everything will work out at the end,” I tease him, chuckling. “I told you!”
[pullquote align=”right”]“Life in the camp is frustrating, the weeks seemed months and the months seemed years.”[/pullquote]We get on the train and head to his brother’s workplace. Ferhad wants to introduce me to his oldest brother. Although I know how it happened, I have to ask. I need to hear it from his own words. “Ferhad, how did you make it possible? Tell me about that exact day.”
He nods with his shy smile and says: “Oh, I will never forget that 28th of April. That day was amazing.” Someone related to his family flew from Germany to Thessaloniki (Greece) with his brother’s German ID. “There was only a tiny chance that it wouldn’t work out. The ID was authentic, and I look pretty similar to my brother. Genes,” he chuckles.
I notice that Ferhad always lowers his voice and looks away when he speaks, observing the rest of the passengers on the coach, who, by coincidence, look Arab.
Once again my mind returns to the refugee camp where I met him. I am aware that I am in Germany and the situation is very different, I am so happy for him. We get off the train, he knows the route and seems familiar with the city. His state of freedom and his journey towards a stable future has been converted into confidence, a fresh outfit and a new hairstyle, deeply reflected in his gestures.
Ferhad introduces me to his oldest brother. The 30-years-old Rodi has been in Germany since 2015 and works as a film-maker. His English is excellent and he modestly tells me that his German is intermediate although I hear him speaking fluently.
It’s getting colder. The wind blows with intensity and gets into our bones while watching Rodi film outdoors. Ferhad slowly relaxes and the moment to hear how he made it to Germany finally arrives. “I need to tell you the exact story about the day I made it possible,” he says, warming up his hands. I nod with excitement and we sit down.
A cousin of his family flew to Thessaloniki bringing his brother’s ID. “I felt that I had to try it this way. Life in the camp is frustrating, the weeks seemed months and the months seemed years,” he adds. I perceive his resignation in his eyes. Rodi disrupts us friendly offering me a cigarette and says something in Kurdish to his brother. I do not understand a word.
I observe them while they have a conversation. Their complicity and brotherly love are hard to miss, and while they talk I can’t avoid thinking about what human beings are able to do when facing vulnerable situations.
After the cigarette break, Rodi goes back to work. Ferhad carries on with the conversation. “Mafia IDs are not a guarantee to cross the border anymore, there is a lot of police and security at Greece airports. I was pretty nervous, it was the fourth time I was trying to cross the border,” he says looking down.
“At the security control, the police came to talk to us. I was quiet and my cousin talked for me,” he takes a breath and a few seconds of silence. Both IDs were authentic, and the fact that Ferhad and Rodi look similar was the key to passing the border control.
“I couldn’t hold my emotions any longer. I began to panic minutes later when I saw two policemen inside the plane. They took an Arab passenger out of the plane just a seat in front of me.” He changes his tone of voice. “They didn’t say anything to me. When the plane took off, my whole body began to sweat and I couldn’t stop crying in silence. I was going to Germany. I made it.” He sounds emotional. “I owe everything to my cousin.”
Despite his seemingly permanent good mood, once Ferhad is done telling me about the episode he gets very emotional. I rub my hand on his shoulder to show him my support and affection.
At only 19, he has had to experience “the worst of the human being,” he admits. He considers himself a lucky person since he arrived in Germany. The asylum process was legalised much more quickly than when in Greece.
Ferhad tells me that when he arrived in Germany he spent almost three weeks in a refugee camp near Dusseldorf waiting for his ID. He takes something out of his pocket; it’s his provisional ID card. “I’ve got two IDs since I arrived in Europe, both of them with different days of birth. I am 18 years-old on the German identification, although the truth is that I am 19.” He smiles. He rapidly adds: “I can’t prove my age, the smugglers stole my previous Syrian passport.”
There is an overwhelming atmosphere and we can’t stand the cold, so we plan to leave and head off to the old town of the city. It is late afternoon, times flies catching up. As we are starving I decide to take him to a Spanish restaurant a friend recommended to me. I am so intrigued by how Ferhad is today. He is growing so much as a person.
When we get to the old town, the moon is rising and the day is turning to darkness. I notice the city getting busier at night. It’s Saturday and bars are full, and there’s a young and fun atmosphere. While we are crossing the busiest bar area, Ferhad thinks out loud: “I now enjoy my life, but I still believe in God.” He adds: “In my country, people take religion too seriously and they are not able to be free.” I nod silently and notice how much he has changed throughout his journey to Germany.
We are about to order in the restaurant. I fancy a German beer and he doesn’t hesitate and orders another for himself straightaway, very natural. I am a bit in shock, and try to hide it. “Please order whatever you like, I eat everything,” he says leaving the religion aside. However, when I first met him it was very present in his day-to-day.
I observe how he uses the cutlery. He doesn’t look comfortable, as if he was trying his best manners on the table. “It’s my second time having dinner with cutlery,” he timidly admits and blushes. I give him some tips to make it easier on him.
I have another flashback and my mind return to Ritsona, this time I see myself sitting on the floor having Syrian lunch at Ferhad’s Caravan at the camp. We ate traditional Middle-East cuisine of the way they do; using Pita bread and hands as cutlery.
We enjoy the Spanish ham, it is his first time trying it and Ferhad seems to love this delicatessen. His reaction is to speak about his life now compared to his roots and previous background: “I just enjoy my life; it is better. Many people interpret religion in a bad way and that oppresses us and does not make us happy,” he confesses again.
We have an intense conversation over dinner, he opens up to me admitting his state of freedom: “A simple thing for Europeans as riding a bike is banned in Kurdistan Iraq. I got a bike as soon I got to Germany, it’s one of the things I love to do here. Everyone rides bikes and nobody judges them.”
He never imagined his would visit Europe, “Syria was one of the safest countries of the world and an amazing place to live in, but now is the worst country of the world,” he laments.
Looking back home, all Ferhad really misses are his mother and his twin sister. “I talk to them every day, and my brothers send them money monthly,” he says. “After almost three years, they are still waiting for the asylum and trying to come to Europe through the legal way.”
Ferhad attends special German lessons for refugees three days per week. He complains about the quality of his classes and hopes to get admitted to a regular German school next year. He has just started to build a new life in Germany, his German is poor and his asylum process is not fully completed yet. But his positive attitude and spirit help him out.
Ferhad’s hobby is to be a barber – his best friend taught him for years in Iraq – although he dreams of studying Geography. He is aware of the importance of friendship: “During my time in the camp in Greece I made great friends from across the world and it made me open my mind a lot,” he admits.
I remember the first day I met Ferhad in Ritsona. He came really early in the morning to the warehouse where the volunteers work to ask in a very basic English and with a discrete approach if he could help us.
I will never forget what the camp coordinator told me: “Ferhad is one of the politest, kindest and most helpful people I have met in Ritsona.” I completely agree with him. Ferhad has always been keen to meet new people despite the barriers of the language and has always been involved in the activities of the camp as well as willing to help the volunteers out.
Very early the next morning, I am due to leave, but despite the time, Rodi and Ferhad come to the station with me. I hate goodbyes. Although due to his religion there’s usually a bit of a “security distance” between us, we now give each other a strong hug.
“Take care you two,” I say nostalgically. Rodi straightaway adds: “He’s my little brother and my favourite. I always take care of him.” In between giggles, Ferhad has one last thing to say: “Everything will work out and you will see it.”
I get back home with a good feeling. Although Ferhad isn’t satisfied enough, I think his ambition will take him into a better situation. His restless instinct and his impressive attitude were key during his journey to Europe.
Hopefully, they will help him build up a bright future. The future that he and so many other refugees deserve: “To me, home means to be with your whole family at a safe place. I will call this city home the day my Mum and my sister land in Germany.”
All images by Alba Regidor-Diaz