Mohamad, 24, met January 11 at a café in Schöneberg
"I’m not a economic refugee, I’m a political refugee. After graduating from university I had a choice – join the army or leave Syria. If you stay, the situation is kill or be killed. And I didn’t want to kill anybody. One day in 2013, I was on my way to the university, and 500 metres in front of me I saw the police picking up bodies and cleaning up the street. A missile had been dropped on the university from a government airplane. The next day it was as if nothing had happened. It's normal in Syria for friends to die.
So I eventually paid some money to be smuggled out of Syria. We passed by villages that were under ISIS control and the situation was terrible – everything was forbidden, even cigarettes. During the journey, my phone died all the time and my parents assumed I was dead.
There were hurdles every step of the way, but in a weird way I sort of enjoyed it. I tried to look at the whole experience as a challenge and not as a burden. In Turkey I had to deal with all the smugglers that try to take all your money and rip you off. Eventually, we managed to find what seemed to be the only decent smuggler in Izmir.
In Greece, a big group joined me on my way to Macedonia – all of a sudden around 200 people were following me because I could speak English and knew how to use GPS. I was afraid to take on responsibility for so many families with kids, but in the end I had no choice. At the Macedonian border, many people were punched and hurt badly. In Serbia, some mafia guys came to us and wanted to charge us €50 a head to let us continue. In Belgrade no hotel would take us and we slept on the street in front of the station, in the heart of the city. realised that more and more we were turning into what most people imagine refugees to look like – dirty, wearing ripped clothes, desperate and confused. I arrived in Hungary hungry and without having slept in a really long time. I had to idea how rough that country was. Before I knew what was happening, the police arrested me and I was in jail. I spent nine days there. Every 12 hours we were given a small bread roll with butter and ham. They took everything – my passport, documents, money, cigarettes, shoelaces, watch. We were 170 people in a 40sqm cell. We could hardly breathe. A police officer smacked me in the face, he had a ring on his finger and it split open my eyebrow.
Many adventures later, on July 12, 2015, I arrived in Berlin with a small group of friends. We slept in a small tent in the garden in front of LaGeSo. It was raining. We were only wearing shorts and didn’t have sleeping bags or blankets. A friend of mine wrapped a shirt around his feet. The next morning, we got some money from Western Union and went to Hamburg, because we'd heard that the procedure there was faster. From Hamburg I was sent to Trier. People there looked at us strangely – I didn’t like that. So I decided to return to Berlin. Here, everybody has been really good to us. Before I got to Germany I had a negative idea about Germans, but after getting help from so many people I changed my mind. People at the bus station, security at the camp, social workers, people in the street – everyone.
Even if the journey to Europe was terrible, I enjoyed seeing so many beautiful countries. This was the best experience of my life. I saw and went through so many things that it has made me rethink what it is I want. Back home, my ambitions were finishing my education, getting a good job and having a house and a family. Now I know that the world is much bigger than that. I want to keep on exploring what is out there. I’m still young, I’m only 24 years old. At different points in time, the journey was difficult, degrading, painful and scary. But it helped me realise that life is short and nothing is a given. I want to make the most out of every single opportunity that I have. Once my papers get sorted out, I want to continue travelling. Before I turn 30, I want to have seen as much of the world as possible."