Kidnapped, sold and taking a stand for Syria: Tarek’s story

“I don’t want you to suffer from the conflict.” A sentence from Tarek’s mother changed his life. He followed her advice and left his home in Hama, Syria, three years ago – setting out on a journey that he would never forget.

Tarek in the street, Denmark

The journey

“I travelled through Turkey and Algeria to Libya with a group of 79 people. Within an hour of being in Libya, we were kidnapped by a gang of smugglers and sold to a different gang. They forced us to pay for our freedom. They took my phone, wallet and all personal items. I was left with nothing, but I was alive,” he says.

Tarek eventually managed to reach the sea in the hope of crossing by boat to Italy, to safety. “When we finally got on a boat, it was sinking. Those with a phone called organisations in Italy asking for help. We poured out water that was coming in for as long as we could. And then finally, there was a helicopter and help from the coastguard. We would finally reach Europe.”

‘We are just like you’

Tarek stands in front of a building

Tarek finally found asylum in Denmark but here he faced other struggles. “When we saw the first heap of stereotyping and hostility against refugees and people with darker skin, we decided to act. We united as a group called ‘Villep One’ and came together on Christmas to distribute roses and brochures, telling people; ‘we are just like you’.”

Tarek goes on to say;

My wish is that someday, we’ll be awareness builders. We’ll help build tolerance, teach people to accept each other’s differences and make people aware that differences are in fact healthy and necessary for any society.

Many similar events followed in cities around the country. He says: “because of the success of it, I was invited to political discussions and demonstrations. At the ‘Welcome Refugees’ demonstration, where I had the opportunity to give a speech, there was a woman in the audience who heard me and came to talk to me. We fell in love. She’s now my wife. I am so thankful for that day, and for the fact that I have found love in a new setting, a new home.”

Taking action

Tarek was invited to a workshop with the Aswat Faeela (Active Voices) network, a project that brings together young Syrians and young people from their host communities in Europe and the Middle East. At the workshop in Hobro, Denmark, he learned how to use his skills to identify the issues affecting those in his community and how to best advocate for change. Energized by the workshop, he wanted to put his new skills to immediate use so he started to conduct focus groups and interview immigration officials in Denmark, to identify the key obstacles around the integration of Syrians in their new community in order to try and overcome them.

Closup of Tarek's arm showing wristbands

“The Aswat Faeela project is very important. We need to take a step forward. We need to take action. Many things are bothering us, especially the emerging gap, that is not only between the European host community and Syrians. But there is also a gap between me and my family in Syria. And with my father in Lebanon. The gap is widening, and someone must do something about it. This is what the project sets out to do,” says Tarek.

He was also invited to Amsterdam with other Aswat Faeela Syrian activists from all over Europe. They got together and focused on the results of the community based research they all did around Syrian refugees and their new communities. Together they began to map out the concrete steps that could help improve relationships and understanding between Syrians and their European host communities but also among Syrians themselves that are scattered across Europe and the Middle East because of the conflict. Aswat Faeela is providing one of the few platforms that physically brings together such a diverse range of people around common issues and helping them to raise their voice to build a better future.

The future

“I would like to see Aswat Faeela widen the scope of our work. We represent a small percentage of Syrians and we would like to include more Syrians. We want to leave an impact on as wide a population possible. We want everyone to be influenced.” Tarek goes onto say:

If we establish common channels and common platforms through which we can enhance our communication, then we would reinforce the possibility of building a future community hand in hand.

Together for Syria

Follow the journey of these young people as we share the stories of inspiring Syrian peacebuilders and social activists as they build peace far away from home.

About the project

Aswat Faeela (Active Voices) is a project to develop the social leadership skills of youth who have been affected by the ongoing and protracted Syrian crisis.

International Alert Syria is part of this regional project which aims to give them a voice in national and international conversations about peacebuilding and community resilience as an antidote to the dominant narrative around the impact of conflict.

It adopts a two-fold approach. Firstly, it supports emerging social leaders to work within their communities to find local solutions to issues that challenge them on a daily basis. Secondly, it builds coalitions so young people can advocate more effectively together around common themes. In this way, they are able to relate their everyday experiences at the community level to wider political and policy priorities at the national and international level.

The project is funded by the European Commission​, led by the British Council and implemented through a consortium of partners (including International Alert, Search for Common Ground and Globally Connected).