"أفضّل البقاء في هنغاريا والعمل في 'ماكدونالدز'، على العودة إلى سوريا"
“I’m sick of waiting for my expiration date.”
While he lived in Syria, the expiration date on the deferment of his military service was a yellow ‘triangle of death’ that terrified him every time he looked at it. The fear reached a point that had him fleeing the country to Lebanon to live in exile and begin a new nightmare in Beirut with a different expiration date hanging over his head. The date on his local sponsor (or kafeel) document, which is a document by which a Lebanese citizen pledges to sponsor a Syrian worker working in Lebanon. He marked it down on the front page of the house calendar, to be reminded every morning that he must search for a new lifeline before the time is up.
A Hungarian scholarship was the Syrian student’s chance to get into Europe, away from raging seas and coast guard pursuit. In the end, he reached Hungary, to once again race against time with a brand new expiration date; the expiry date of his scholarship visa.
In an interview with Raseef22, I asked him, “When does this suffering end?” He replied, “It will not end. Even if it grows tired of us... it will just hand over the torch to another type of suffering... We are Syrians after all.”
This is how Bashir S, a 25 year old graduate student, summarizes the suffering he endured in Syria and Lebanon. Today, his torment has begun anew as he faces a new journey of exile, the same one that awaits every Syrian student at the end of their two years of studies in Hungary, leaving him chasing after any refuge he may find in Europe to avoid the notion of going back home.
A Hungarian scholarship was the Syrian student’s chance to reach Europe, away from raging seas and coast guard pursuits. He reached Hungary, to once again race against time with a new expiration date; the expiry date of his scholarship visa.
No escape from camps
From the moment he arrived in Hungary, Bashir began to worry about what his fate would be after the scholarship ended. This anxiety was strong enough to spoil the joy of any beautiful moments he experienced.
He says, “I feel like I am in a race against time, time is running out, and I must decide my fate. My grades do not allow me to pursue any doctorate studies, and getting a visa to look for work is impossible, because Hungary does not grant permanent residence to foreigners, and only grants citizenship under very strict conditions, in comparison with other European countries. Working here is an opportunity to prolong my stay, even though the average wage is very low.”
The more time passes, the more it seems like Bashir will end up in a refugee camp in a European country, even as he tries to avoid such a fate in an attempt to escape starting a new arduous journey. He adds, “Last year, the option of asylum to a European country was rejected, because my family is in Syria and I have to visit them periodically, and because I see asylum as a long difficult road that scares me, after I had enjoyed two years of stability in Hungary. But with the date of my graduation approaching, maybe the only remaining option for me will be the camp.”
Rahaf Z. a 24 year old Syrian master’s student in Hungary, accepts the idea of asylum, and even sees that it offers many opportunities and advantages. She tells Raseef22, “The apprehension over what will happen after the scholarship began when we arrived here, everyone knows that their scholarship is a good way to escape Syria and that the second step that we take after the scholarship is what will shape our future in Europe.
I am looking to find another university scholarship or a job, or I’ll request asylum even though I do not meet its conditions, because Syria has become safe in the eyes of European states, and I have been in Europe for two years... How will I convince them that I am fleeing from war?”
The right to return?
Since childhood, Micheline H., 23, dreamt of living outside Syria, a country that she saw had limited horizons even before the war. That is why she completed her first stage of university there, and came to Europe via a Hungarian scholarship. She says: “Since arriving here, I have been receiving warnings from second-year master’s students about the post-scholarship phase. I always try to not think about it and calm my anxiety with the possibility that I’ll apply for asylum, but it is an insomnia that grows further the closer I am to finishing my studies here in Hungary.”
Micheline studies pharmacy at a university in Hungary, and says that, “In Syria, there are no prospects for development. I’d rather stay here and work at McDonald’s, than go back to Syria and work in Pharmacy... Here, there is always hope for a better opportunity that may provide a good future, but in Syria, there is no way that such an opportunity would come.”
Everyone approves of the decision to not return, and see it as something that’s out of the question. Even if a life of luxury and prosperity is guaranteed in the country, it would be spoiled by the news of the tragedies happening there, the convoys of migrants, and those looking for any way to escape... Rahaf says, “I always ask myself what is stopping me from living in Syria? I lay out a hypothetical plan for what needs to be done. I find it unattainable... Therefore, I am not thinking of returning to Syria, especially after my family left it and sought asylum in Austria.”
“Syria is great for a short visit that doesn’t exceed seven days! On the eighth day, feelings of regret and nostalgia for this country and the order in it will begin,” Bashar says. He stresses the difficulty of adapting to conditions in Syria, especially after living in Europe for two years and enjoying a cordial relationship with law and order, far from chaos, folly, and rampant corruption.
Imprisoned in a gilded cage
Few job opportunities can be found in Hungary after the scholarship ends, especially since some of the scholarship applicants go into majors with easy conditions, but they do not find enough vacancies when they graduate, such as jobs in the fields of social work, public health, and human sciences. Even those who have found a job opportunity see it as a temporary “residence document” until they find a job in another country with higher wages that grants permanent residence to foreigners working on its territory.
This reality has made applying for asylum the next step for a large number of Syrian students with Hungarian scholarships. But the situation differs in the case of Nadine A., a 28 year old master’s student studying public health in Hungary. She has no chance to apply for asylum, because she has been living in Lebanon since infancy, and only saw Syria when she studied at university and applied for a scholarship. So, she chose the easier path; a fake marriage in order to obtain European citizenship.
Nadine tells Raseef22, “After the [Beirut] port explosion, I traveled to Syria and applied for a scholarship. When I arrived in Europe through a Hungarian scholarship, I was sure that fate would give me another chance at survival to escape the possibility of returning to Lebanon after the scholarship… The opportunity came in the form of an Egyptian young man with Swedish citizenship, whom I met in Budapest, and we agreed to get married!”
Nadine talks to Raseef22 about her feelings for the 33 year old Karam G., “I sometimes feel that I love him, and sometimes I confess to myself that I am merely pretending to have these feelings in order to complete this rescue marriage... I even justify the trickery and deception to myself when I think of the hell that awaits me if I decide to return to Syria or Lebanon.”
“I always ask myself what is stopping me from living in Syria? I lay out a hypothetical plan for what needs to be done. I find it unattainable... Therefore, I am not thinking of returning to Syria
Phobia of the homeland
These are the elite in the scale of the latest class division created in Syria, where the lower class now includes every regular Syrian citizen who doesn’t hold a high position, capital, or some form of corruption that fills his pockets and raises his status to the middle class. As for the modern aristocratic upper class in Syria, it consists of those who survived and crossed the borders to the outside, carrying the “expatriate” badge. Just like those holding a high position cling to their chair and capitalists manage their finances, those enjoying the luxury of living abroad fear for their “foreigner” medal, and are keen on not losing it — leaving tracking the expiration date of their “residency documents” the highlight of living in exile, and the nightmare of a “one way trip” home the master of anxiety.