This is Ibrahim Jack – a Syrian I worked with in the UAE. Ibrahim was the cook at a school I was teaching in earlier this year – and one of the 3 million Syrians who have fled their country through civil war.
I used to go for a cigarette break in the bushes behind the school (away from the prying eyes of children) and would bump into Ibrahim often. He spoke very little English, but he knew enough to make himself understood. We would smoke together, he would teach me some Arabic words, or tell me about his life. I was curious about the situation in Syria and he explained as far as his language would allow him – but there was obviously far more complex questions that he could’ve given me a good answer to, had I spoken Arabic.
What I understood was this: he was a from Aleppo, or nearby, and had a wife and four daughters still there. He had lost a number of people known to him due to the war – how many, and how close they were I wasn’t able to find out – and he had managed to get a job working in the Emirates so as to send money back to his wife and kids.
So much of what you hear about of the Middle East is both completely true, and at the same time completely wrong, nothing more so than the politics of diplomacy. Ibrahim was a Syrian Christian and pro-Assad, and regularly suggested that the Syrian leader and his governance had been misrepresented by foreign leaders and the foreign press. He claimed the Syrian leader had done a good job of keeping the country together up to (and I supposed) including the Arab Spring uprising and subsequent civil war. Only the Syrian people know the truth of this, yet Ibrahim was distrustful of Muslims, which while not justifiable, is perhaps in some way understandable given that his view was that the uprising was used to purge non-muslims from the country. This has clearly been the case in ISIS/Al’Daesh controlled regions of the country. What atrocities have been committed, and by whom, will come out in the wash in time, but for now objective truth is as scarce as hope in a country that has seen over 3 million people flee the country, according to UN estimates.
Ibrahim Jack was one of the luckier ones. Either by good fortune or foresight he had got himself a job in a Gulf state, and despite earning a pittance compared to migrants holding western passports, was able to send money home to his family. Thousands of his compatriots along with those fleeing North Africa are not so lucky. They are contained at refugee camps along the border of the European Union, hoping to get to Germany and beyond, and a better life. How Europe reacts to this crisis will be important to see in the long-term, both for Syria and the EU’s own borders.
The last time I saw Ibrahim Jack, he told me his plan was to return home to Syria to collect his family and possessions, and to move to Sweden. He’d saved up some money to make his move happen, and he hoped to start a restaurant with a close friend already there.
Strangely he was very optimistic – he said to me in his inimitable way: “Syria 2,000 years old. Syria see many bad times.”