Humans of Heumensoord

*Photos by Mahmod Kharrat ©

Humans of Heumensoord

This is the first in our forthcoming series on Humans of Heumensoord. Inspired by Humans of New York and set up by a group of engaged photographers, journalists and activists in the Netherlands; this project seeks to put a human face on the country’s largest refugee camp, where over 3,000 refugees await the start of the asylum process under ‘emergency shelter’. During their stay they can’t work or study, because of that they have little access to the Dutch society. To tighten that gap; the project gives refugees a chance to tell their story and that way present themselves to the western society; reflecting on issues such as conflict, integration, assimilation, human rights and racism.

Our first piece meets Mohammad (29), interviewed by Marleen van Klingeren. “I was living in a small district beside the centre of Damascus. It was out of range of the mortar shelling, so it was kind of safe. But the militias were close and we were afraid they would carry out actions in the area.

I studied plant pathology and was working on a farm, an engineering job that was given to me by the government in 2014. The jobsite was eight kilometres from my home and the security situation was the same. But the road between my home and my worksite was dangerous. The road separated the regime side and the militia’s side. There were many checkpoints on it, where you had to show your ID. On this road clashes occurred. The last time there was a big clash I was on the jobsite. There was no phone signal. When I returned in the middle of the night, after the road reopened, my mother told me ‘you have to go now’. The situation had become too dangerous. She told me I had two choices. Either I would stay inside all the time, or I would leave. There was no other option. Before that day my mother always told me to stay. I am the youngest in the family; I have a special connection with my mother. But after the last clash she changed her mind.”

humans12“It was a very difficult decision. The budget we had for the trip was limited. My nephew Ziad sold his car, I received all the money my parents had saved in their lives and my brother Samer had some job savings. We left on the 13th of august. First, we went to Lebanon. From there we went to Adana in Turkey and then Izmir, the west coast of Turkey. Izmir is like the capital of smugglers. All the people go there. In Izmir, we negotiated with a mediator between the smugglers and us. After two days we reached a deal. He told us what time to wait in the street. From there they would take us to ‘the point’. The point is a famous word among smugglers; it’s the place near the coast where the people launch the boats. In general the smuggler ‘buys’ the point from the Turkish police. They give them money not to catch them. We were divided in groups of five. Samer and Ziad went with another group. It was night time and I got in a car with four people. There was total silence. At times the driver would park in a gas station for a while and wait. We had to stay in the car. You know, when you have a deal with smugglers you put yourself in their hands. Eventually we arrived at the seaside. We hid between the bushes. It was very filthy and smelly. After about 3 hours the mediator came and told us it’s time to go. We got into a rubber boat with 45 people. There were women, kids and even a baby. There was no place to sit, we were cramped next to each other and had to hold on tight. The sea was calm, no waves and I felt comfortable about that. Then we launched. The person steering was also a refugee. He arranged this so he didn’t have to pay the fee. He had no experience and the boat didn’t go straight on. Fortunately, there was a strong Iraqi man who took over. The mediator told us it’s easy. But it’s the sea. It’s very hard. It took more than three hours, but we arrived safely on the island Samos. We walked for seven or eight hours to the other side of the island. We slept on the car park, waiting to get onto the ferry to Athens. It was the first time in my life I slept in the streets.”

humans2“I’ve been here about 2 months now. At first I felt like being in a big jail, because we are isolated from the city. Then my brother got the link to the Facebook page called Refugees in Netherlands Nijmegen. He said he wanted to get connected and learn Dutch. A gentleman named Herman Janssen answered. This is how I got connected with the Dutch people. Herman was the first. I started to learn Dutch every day and to meet new people. The situation turned 180 degrees from when I arrived. All things changed for me by going out and getting invited. You have two options: either to be disappointed and stay in the camp or to do something. I chose to do something. I want other people to have this experience too. Two Dutch ladies, my friend Fadi and me have formed a group to help people who don’t speak English and get them connected to other people. I have arranged three dinners now between people in the camp and Dutch families.

It’s not about the clothes anymore; it’s about the mental state. People need mental support. They are depressed. If they receive mental support they forget about complaining. That’s just their way to express. It’s hard to make plans because you don’t know what will happen. In general, I want to complete my study first. I miss Syria from before the war. Not what it is now.”

For more information on the Humans of Heumensoord project you can follow them on Facebook. Stay tuned to meet Mostafa and his seven year old son next week.

Humans of Heumensoord

Humans of Heumensoord, “Humans of Heumensoord”, Independent Turkey, 27 January 2016, London: Centre for Policy and Research on Turkey (Research Turkey). Original link:



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