Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Emigre Life Not the Easy Way Out

(19-Dec-08)
By IWPR
As I walk to work every morning, I ask myself whether the life I yearn for here in Dubai will ever become a reality. For the moment, I cannot even afford the luxury of going by public transport to the media outlet where I work as a journalist. But the walk only takes half an hour.



Before I decided to leave Syria, I had always resisted the idea of fleeing as a solution to the problems of unemployment, lack of freedom and low wages. I hoped that I would be able to pursue my dreams among family and friends.



But over the past year, I became gradually overwhelmed by despair. Emigration began to seem the only way of starting a new, decent life.



At the time, I was working for a news website critical of the government, and studying simultaneously.



Like many political journalists in my country, I was regularly summoned by the security services for questioning about the articles I was writing.



Security service officers threatened to prevent me from working unless I agreed to collaborate with them and inform on my colleagues.



Meanwhile, my standard of living was deteriorating as the prices of basic commodities spiralled yet my salary remained pitifully low.



Emigration often proves a difficult but unavoidable choice for Syrians. The number of young people going abroad to work is on the rise. Most leave because of the poor state of the economy, but also to enjoy a greater degree of freedom. Many choose to go to the oil-rich Gulf countries.



After it became too difficult to make ends meet every month, I eventually succumbed and decided to look for new horizons elsewhere.



Like many of my compatriots, I had unrealistic dreams of going to Europe, but I didn’t want to end up as an illegal immigrant washing dishes.



Despite the financial crisis in the Gulf, a friend of mine found me a job in Dubai and I decided to try my luck there. To my surprise, my visa arrived quickly.



I got in a taxi and headed for the airport along with some friends and relatives, who came to say goodbye. My mother had stuffed my bag with traditional Syrian foods and shed tears as I left our home.



At passport control, I was a nervous wreck as I handed my documents to the officer. I watched him closely as his eyes shifted meticulously between computer screen and passport. For a moment, I thought I would never be allowed to step foot outside Syria. But he finally stamped my passport and told me I could go.



I arrived in Dubai with a lot of questions and just 1,000 Syrian liras, roughly 20 US dollars, all that was left from the money I had borrowed to cover my travel costs.



Some friends and relatives were waiting outside Dubai airport to welcome me. Yet I still felt like a foreigner the moment I arrived. Everything was unfamiliar, and the sizzling heat did not make things any easier.



I was haunted by never-ending questions - what should I write about? What is allowed here? What is not allowed? Who should I hang out with? Who should I complain to?



I initially started working with an online media outlet, but I soon learned that my new employer had deceived me – he was only prepared to pay me half the wage I had been promised. Nor was he going to allow me to return to Syria to sit my university exams. Even though I was working in Dubai, I did not want to abandon the years of education I had completed in Syria.



I finally decided to quit after 15 days. I discovered that other people had worked for this employer for months without receiving a penny.



Syrians face the same kind of difficulties as other migrant workers in Dubai. Some find that their wages are repeatedly slashed and their working conditions deteriorate, while others are illegally deprived of their passports.



I quickly seized on an opportunity which came up, and started working as a cultural affairs reporter. I now live in a flat which I share with some Iraqis and Syrians. I spend half my salary on food and the rest on rent, and have not managed to save much money so far.



In my leisure time, I browse the internet, work on computer programmes, and read.



It’s been a few months since I moved here, but I am already thinking a great deal about going back, especially at times when the stress of work gets too unbearable.



What I long for most is to hug my mother and eat one of her meals, instead of the cheap fast food we get here.





The author of this piece, formerly an internet journalist in Syria, asked not to be named.



(Syria News Briefing, a weekly news analysis service, draws on information and opinion from a network of IWPR-trained Syrian journalists based in the country.)