“I left Syria in 2011, two months after the war started. I lived in Al-Hajar al-Aswad, in the suburbs of Damascus, the capital city. We went to Lebanon with all my family; I found a job as a mechanic for offset printers. I had been in Lebanon for a few months when the company decided to open a book printing company in Mauritania and sent me here. It was not my choice to move again. Last year, they decided to close the company. I never received the allowances for housing, medical insurance that the management promised. My work is very specific and I was not able to find another job. In Mauritania, there are only two offset printers in the whole country. Before I lost my job, I liked my life in Mauritania, I had everything.
Seven months ago, I opened the small restaurant in a garage to earn a little money. Some friends lent me some money but I have not been able to reimburse them and they are getting impatient. Opening this restaurant was not a dream but I had no choice, we have to eat, I have to feed my children.
I have six children, they are 16, 14, 10, 8, 5 and 3 years old. My eight year old son fell down from the roof once because he was playing there alone. My wife and I work from 8 am to midnight, 7 days a week. We do not have time to take care of our children and we hardly ever see them during the week because they are asleep when we get home. They stay home alone, eat bread with some vache qui rit (cheese). They have forgotten the taste of fruits, or of playing outside.
My children did not go to school for the last two years. After many applications, UNHCR has eventually started paying for their school fees since the summer.
I have not been able to pay my rent for four months and I received threats of expulsion. I had to sell everything in the apartment to be able to eat for a few weeks. There is nothing left in the apartment, nothing to sleep on or sit on, just mats and a TV for the children. I challenge you to come to my house and stay there for 10 minutes. One of my friends says it lacks oxygen.
Since 2011, I have not seen my parents, brothers and sisters. For one year now, I have not been able to talk to the ones who stayed in Syria because there is no internet connection anymore. I miss the daily family gatherings, the culture of my country.
We have never thought of going to another country because we need visas everywhere. My wife and some of my children do not have a valid passport anymore. We cannot leave Mauritania.
I see no future here and we cannot continue living like this. My dream is that my children could go to a good school and that my wife could stay home and take care of them.”
Photo Credit: IOM/Flavia Giordani