When a man fled the war in Syria, he was met with street homelessness in Italy and then detention in the UK. He told DDVG his story.
I am a farm worker from a village with hills around it just outside Dar’a around two hours South of Damascus by car. I have a wife and son and we lived with my parents, brothers and sisters.
Dar’a is close to Damascus and the first battles of the uprising were nearby. Children in Dar’a (inspired by events in Egypt) painted anti-regime graffiti on a wall. They were taken by police and the commander refused their release prompting the residents to start protesting in the city centre.
Assad started to kill people in Dar’a and people in my village took to the streets in protest as well. The children were finally released but they showed the marks of torture – their fingernails had been removed and they had been shocked with electricity.
The police and army started to kill all those from Dar’a and I saw pleas for help on TV. I went with others from the neighbourhood shouting “Freedom, freedom! Peaceful, peaceful!” and we were shot at. My cousin was shot in the leg, as was the man I was marching beside. Every night and day there were protests and the government came and shot more people.
A cousin of mine was a soldier in the Syrian army and when he refused to shoot protesters he was tortured and killed.
People were given no ceremony when they were killed, they were just buried where they were. It continued like that for four months, with blood on the streets. I hid, with a little food and water.
At one point tanks came to the village and destroyed most of the houses over two floors. They left the biggest buildings with snipers in them. In a round-up of around a thousand men they searched the houses and my brothers and I were among those taken to a school and tortured.
I was given electric shocks and beaten with batons and my head was smashed on a table, breaking my nose. Others had it worse – some had their legs cut with swords and the soldiers cut some people’s throats.
All of this was without reason, they didn’t ask us questions. When they were finished the soldiers just left us in that school. It took a month for me to recover from my injuries.
Fighting in Dar’a continued for four months before the Free Syrian Army started in the North and Government forces were diverted there.
I flee Syria
Things improved for a while as other areas of Syria caused problems for the Government and the army seemed to fall apart. However, with the support of other countries the Government forces returned to my village in August 2012. Hundreds were killed, including children; missiles were fired and bombs were dropped. I decided to flee Syria and try and get somewhere that I could bring my family – they would not have been able to make the journey with me.
I fled to Lebanon and then Egypt before finding a smuggler to take me to Europe. 150 to 200 of us were taken by boat from Egypt to Italy – we were a mix of Syrians, Egyptians and Palestinians. We travelled in several small boats before meeting on the sea and joining a bigger boat. We were transferred several times and others joined us halfway. We ate only bread as we went. We had lived inland all our lives so we vomited a lot on the journey.
When the Italians found us they stopped the boat and transferred us to a different boat where we were left for five hours. The Italian police took pictures of us and hit us if we talked. On land we were forced to stand still with our heads down. We were not allowed to go to the toilet. They beat me on the legs. They hit us if we sat down or moved. They even hit the women and children. It reminded me of Syria. We just asked them to let us go but they kept us like that for 24 hours.
I said I didn’t want my fingerprints taken. They hit me. They had weakened us by hunger so we couldn’t resist and four people held me down to take my fingerprints. I heard Italy’s efforts to fingerprint us were so that they could receive funding for keeping us. They would then keep this money and send us on to the streets.
I was kept eight days in a detention centre, just like I am in now. We were fed only a tiny bit of food each day and it was dirty. It was an entirely closed prison, none of it was outside. When we were released we were taken to a deserted area on the mainland. It was a government building and as the police left they said people would come to collect us and we should go to Germany to work.
They hit us. They left us on the street. They wanted us to hate Italy so we’d go to Germany and not come back. We left from the war and we found something similar.
We were smuggled out to London where I went to a police station. I have been detained ever since. I came to Britain to get some security as I heard it was a country with a strong respect for human rights but I have found myself in prison for 3 months.
But it’s heaven here compared to Italy. People sent back there are living on the streets. I would rather be taken back to Syria and be with my family than be homeless in Italy. At least there is more honour in that than being without dignity on the streets.
No one can know what it’s like leaving your family at home in a war and then ending up homeless on Italian streets. We came here for a safe country. I have seen my son under the sound of bullets. My only hope in the world is my son. All my thoughts are of my son. I’m always waiting for a call saying he’s dead. My wife keeps asking for me to get them out of that hell.
Since this account was taken at the start of October, this person has been released from detention, but he still faces return to Italy.