One of these men, because of security reasons we will call him Mahruk, says the last months have been good and that they are doing well. Mainly because they got a lot of friends that are helping them. At the camp early this fall the guys met Julie, she was working as a volunteer and soon became their friend. She has been one of the many helpers Mahruk and his cousins have befriended. Julie has helped them find a lawyer for the paper process they have to go through becoming a Belgian citizen. Mahruk is not sure how everything is going to work but he thinks there are three interviews. They have only done one of them because is has been delayed three times, making them wait for five months. But now that the one is done Mahruk feels much better.
I do not blame people for getting sensitive or fearing some refugees. Because everybody wants peace in his own country.
Pros’ and cons’
After these months some differences between the countries have become clear. This also counts for some likes and dislikes. A dislike would be the weather. The climate in Iraq is hot and dry. The summers are long while the winter is short. January is the coldest month with temperatures from 5°C to 10°C. Now in the middle of January the temperatures are below zero here in Belgium. So, it is not strange that someone who is used to more pleasant conditions weather-wise might feel a bit chilled in a country with moderate winters and cool summer.
A definite subject to go in the like-column is people. ‘I do notice that people here are more open minded, it is very nice. It is visible through the simplest things, like earrings. If I wear earrings here it is normal but if I were to do it in Iraq they would laugh at me.’ Mahruk explains.
No way back
He also explains that they left because of the increasing threat to his home town Mosul in Iraq after the city got captured by the so-called Islamic States (ISIS) army. ISIS are known for their strict and violent regime and Sharia laws. ‘We are not allowed to smoke and we can not wear the clothes that we want or wear our hair like we want. I saw them take away a lot of people and one day it might be me they come for. So we left, and we left everything behind.’
Mahruk and his cousins escaped hoping to find a future in an open society in Europe where it is allowed to speak English and listen to music. However, his Facebook does show signs of homesickness. ‘Who does not love his country? I want my people to live in peace like all countries here. Also all my family are there, it is hard being away from them and our childhood friends. So I do miss my country sometimes. It is also hard living here knowing they are in danger. But what can I do? We had to leave everything there. And because we left without permission there is no way we can go back. We will be dead before even reaching home.’
It is because of this threat that he does not want his real name in this article nor does he wish to have his picture taken. He fears for his family’s safety if anyone were to find out who he is and what he is saying.
‘Everybody wants peace in his own country’
Now that they are here in Belgium the threat still surrounds them. 13th of November the terror hit Paris and only few days before New Years’ Eve a team were arrested for planning a terrorist attack in Belgium on the big day. These things make Mahruk upset. ‘I feel bad because the terror is giving people the wrong image about us and Islam. They are terrorizing in the name of Islam and innocent people die. It is not fair. I do not blame people for getting sensitive or fearing some refugees. Because everybody wants peace in their country. But they have to know the difference between us and the terrorists. However, I do feel like people here in Belgium can see the difference.’
A Normal day
Although they live in Mons, in an apartment provided by the government, they often spend their days in Brussels. They are working as volunteers and translators at the refugee center by Maximillian park three or four days a week. Often their days run late and the last train leaves before them, lucky for Mahruk and his cousins they have friends that are more than happy to help them. ‘We have a lot of Belgian friends that help us, especially here in Brussels. They let us sleep at their place when we can not get back to Mons at night and they invite us to all their events. They are like my family here and I am so thankful for that. When I go to Brussel I feel like I am at home.’
He says he feels like he can live and have a future here. The feeling of freedom and safety makes Belgium feel like home to Mahruk. The last year the young men have celebrated the new year, birthdays and freedom. The wish for the next year is getting the papers in order. Only after that can the young men start thinking about getting a job and some activities for their spare time. Mahruk wants to go back to writing short stories like he did in Iraq. And until it is no longer needed they will be found at the refugee center helping out others.