When Osama was 15 years old he fled from the war in Syria together with his parents and four siblings. Now, five years later, he is 20 years old and has just seen his dreams for the future shattered yet another time.
Osama grew up in the outskirts of the Syrian capital, Damascus. A modern, vibrant and stable city until the war broke out in 2011. He lived a normal life. Went to school. “My country was a nice place to live in. I reached grade 10 in this school. I loved being there,” says Osama. “We lived in an area like Beirut. There were buildings and streets, it was not a village. Our flat was on the ground floor, with three rooms and two gardens. It's awful, because when I was a child, I had a dream to build my future life in that area. I wanted to become a doctor, and open a clinic in my house. My father and mother used to tell us, my siblings and I, that we will transform the house into a medical centre, each room for each one of you. But we cannot do it now. So, I should find alternative solutions, alternative dreams.”
“Maybe you heard about the chemical attacks in 2013? We were near the spot where the chemical attacks happened. After the attacks, president Obama said that he will attack Syria or some points in Syria, so we left. We decided to leave Syria for 3 months, we hoped that the condition in our country would become safer. But the conditions stayed the same, not stable.”
“Maybe I should start with the positive things. I am a student in the university. I got a scholarship here. My family is with me. I am sure this is a good thing. My friends' families stayed in Syria.” The dream of becoming a doctor and open a clinic is put on hold for Osama. “Now, I am a computer science student, maybe I will find myself there. I hope I can open a mobile school to teach people.” To be closer to university, Osama lives in a shared flat with nine other Syrian youths in central Beirut. They are close knit group who support each other through thick and thin. His family rents an apartment outside Beirut, and Osama spends his weekends there with them.
For a Syrian refugee living in Lebanon, there are many limitations. Osama and his older sister are the breadwinners of the family and feel the big burden on their young shoulders. “Even if you found an opportunity to complete your education, and you have a master degree or a PHD for example to become a doctor, you are not allowed to work. Living here is very expensive, so you need a lot of money. My biggest challenge is that the economic situation is so bad, not for me, but for all the Syrian families.”, says Osama.
“Maybe the bad things here, as a Syrian guy in Lebanon, there are a lot of regulations that restrict my life, which make me not like a normal guy. Right now, I don’t have an official residency, so I cannot go to every place I want. I entered Lebanon legally, but you have to pay $200 per year for each person above 15 years old for a residency permit. So, if your family consists of seven members like ours, you have to pay $1000 yearly. I didn't pay, so they took my passport and now I cannot move or leave this country.”
Osama and his family have tried to find another way to build their future elsewhere. They applied for resettlement. After a long process, including two interviews, Osama got the phone call. They were rejected. “I feel I am in a big jail. Like an animal in a zoo,” says Osama with tears in his eyes. The rejection was a big blow for Osama and his dreams for the future for himself and his family. “I cannot go back to Syria, and I cannot leave this country. So, I will try to live here.” Osama tries to think positive. “I consider Lebanon my second country, I love Lebanon so I want to serve this country. I want to build my family here. When I came here they said welcome, so I owe them one.”
Photo: Ingebjørg Kårstad/NRC.