Twenty-seven-year-old Rawan belongs to the Alawites, the religious minority that governs Syria. She comes from a wealthy family: her father is a civil engineer and so is her brother. Her mother is a French language teacher, her sister is a director. Rawan is a pharmacist. They led a good life, but when the war started many Alawites were targeted by extremists. “What we experience is an insurrection motivated by religion, which has brought us only terrorists and ISIS. You don’t have the right to a different faith or opinion. You can only agree with them. Otherwise you’ll get on their black list and they will kill you. This is not freedom. Before the war, no one asked what your faith was. Now everyone asks ‘are you a Muslim or a Christian? Sunnite or Shiite?’ Your life depends on the answer you give”.
“I lived in the suburbs of Damascus, but I was studying at the Syrian Private University in Daraa (Deraa), one of the major hubs of the insurgence, so I was constantly facing death threats. They were harassing me all the time because I am Alawite, I don’t wear a headscarf, I put on makeup and I wasn’t afraid to express my opinion towards their intolerance. My family begged me to leave the country, since they were afraid I could get killed, but I didn’t want to”.
“When I got my degree, my parents convinced me to go to Lebanon, where my younger sister was working. Upon arrival, they took my passport so that I could not go back to Syria. I stayed there for two years and I returned to Syria about ten months ago”.
“The suburbs of Damascus where we lived were surrounded by extremists. They started attacking us from Duma and our house got hit, but fortunately it wasn’t entirely damaged. They shot down one of my uncles and his three children. His wife was saved, as their baby that she held in her arms, shielded her from the bullets. The baby saved her life, but she lost her sanity. There is no more mercy in our country.”
“After everything that had happened to us, extremists uploaded photos from my Facebook profile onto their social media. Some of them showed my fiancé and me, with a mini skirt, having a drink. They were calling me “Alawite whore”, inviting fanatics to rape and kill me. I could no longer stay in Syria and my parents took a tough decision: my mother Fatah would leave with me, but my father would stay in Syria. He would consider it a defeat to let extremists kick him out of his own country, but on the other hand he didn’t want his daughter to be on her own in this dangerous journey”.
“We attempted to leave legally, asking for a visa, but no one would give us one. We asked for help at many embassies but, in the end, no one helped us. Everyone contributes to the war but no one helps the people who suffer from its consequences. In the end, we had no choice but to cross the border with Lebanon and reach Turkey from there. We ended up in Bodrum”.
“It was midnight when we started our terrifying trip, on a small speedboat, where 25 refugees, were stacked; all of us Syrian. It was in early November, there was rain and stormy weather, and the boat began to flood. When we approached some rocks, the smuggler started shouting for everyone to jump into the water: if someone hesitated, he grabbed them and threw them into the water himself; even a pregnant woman. My mother got hit on the rocks and injured her legs, she almost drowned. He left us on an islet, where there was nothing more than a church: no houses and no people. It was raining all night long and it was morning when some soldiers approached us. They helped us and transferred us to Chios island. After two days in a detention center, they let us go”.
“In Athens we rented an apartment together with other Syrian refugees: one bedroom, a living-room, and eight people sleeping on mattresses while paying a rent of 1,000 euro per month. The only thing I still have from my previous life is a bracelet I brought with me from Harissa, from Our Lady of Lebanon, a temple with a huge statue of Virgin Mary. I always have it on me– people say that it brings luck. But I do not feel that luck is on our side. We can’t stay in Greece. Our money is almost gone and we are more than afraid to cross the borders on our own. But this may be the only way to have a chance to live in dignity again”.
In the end, luck didn’t abandon them. A month ago they reached Sweden, where Rawan’s brother lives. And Fatat can’t wait for the day she will be reunited with her husband, through family reunification.