In april 2017, Omar – 26-year-old Syrian refugee – founded an organization refugee4refugees on Lesbos and Samos, two of Greek islands with the most immigrants. The organisation, that is, mostly Omar himself, runs programs to improve the lives of refugees on the island, like education, free shop, programs for kids, engaging volunteers from all over the world. He himself is also a volunteer! The organisation is one of the most notable on the two islands. “I can see the Mediterranean full of blood, since people can not escape from the violence at home.”
"In my experience, the EU played a game, which later became too much for them and they lost control. Nobody was expecting this ... Nobody could ..."
“I am a refugee myself, so I have a different story with the EU. When they create a war ... In my experience, they create a war, a war doesn't start by itself ... I am here to save my life. They were trying to fix my leg, I went to school, had friends, led a normal life. One day, they came to my house at 6 a.m. I opened the door and gun was pointed to my head … There were policemen who were supposed to have information about me. In the end, they told me I was working for ISIS. Anyway, they fucked my life, since they took my ... and friends. When I got this paper that said 'We are sorry', I decided to go back to Syria … Our government does the same ..."
Bojan Brecelj: "Before I even entered the official zone of Moira camp, I had an incredible flashback situation. Ladies from Afghanistan around perfect killeen for their traditional bread and the smell that I still have in my memory from when I was traveling through Afghanistan in the 1970s. At that time, before the Russian and Americans destroyed the country, it was the most friendly and gentle place in the world - hospitality was the keyword. Even the police at the border first gave me some good hashish for the welcome, asking for my passport. These people who treated me so nice and taught me sooo much in my life are now in deep trouble, because of us, first of all! And we do not welcome them??? The Afghan ladies did not mind at all that I was photographing them! On the contrary, they gave me two loafs of very tasteful Afghan bread! Hospitality beyond imagination!"
"It came from my family ... They taught me that if I see somebody who needs help, I will help. When I was living in Germany, I was doing the same, I was volunteering ... Before the war, I was working with my father in construction, I studied and also practiced swimming ..."
"Over 70 percent of NGOs have refugee volunteers, we call them community volunteers. I am from Syria and I know how I to help them! The same goes for people from Afghanistan, Africa ..."
"It is easy to fix the situation, but at the same time, it is difficult, because the governments don't want to fix it. There are many reasons. You have a lot of smart people in the camp, but to get asylum, you need to be crazy, you need to provide a paper stating that you are crazy ... It is a game."
About the responsibility for the war in Syria:
"All the governments, such as America, Russia, Iran ... Everyone has their hands in Syria right now. If they take their hands and their feet out of there, we would go back to our countries and live in peace again. But they don’t want that, they want to continue, otherwise the war would be here tomorrow … The same day, they would start it in Turkey, and the next day it would be in Europe ... Because everybody is against Turkey. They will never stop the wars … It’s all about the money."
About future changes:
"Yes, something will change, but it is going to change for the worse … Because no one has enough money. Someday, if they have enough money ... You can get money in many way, smuggling people, having them in camp, creating the war, from the petrol … Everywhere …"
"I do not believe my dream will ever come true, but anyway ... To return home and also to see one day, or just for a few hours, that the people who work with us see that we are humans … And even if they believed we are animals, they would take better care for us. No one gives a shit ... I believe people get tired of the situation, of the government … I believe that A FEW PEOPLE CAN HELP EVERYONE IN THE WORLD, because if just a few people start to help others, those others can help another few ... This mean that no one in the world would need help anymore, and we would not have war anymore … If they would just start with explaining the situation in the camp, explain to the people why they are here and how long they will be here, people will wait, but no one explains nothing, because no-one knows.”
“For instance, I come from the north, there are three families ... One million people. We don’t know each other, but in some way, we are really close. If we see something wrong, we have the right to catch this person. We have the right ... that is what they teach us, but in EU it does not work the same. Now, the kind of people you have in Europe. I am sure it is pretty much the same in Afghanistan, Africa ... If you could just teach these people before you welcome them, everything would be different. They can be in control ... What is freedom in Europe? Alcohol, being with women, and freedom of speech. In Ethiopia, freedom of speech is 0,5 out of 10! Whatever you want to do, you need permission, and for me, this means control, no freedom at all. I cannot say I am Muslim, because everyone believes how a Muslim brings terror. At the same time, I do not want to generalize. I say, before you say something about another person, try to meet this person and understand what he wants.”
"In one of my projects, I have a free shop where people can go and choose what they like. I am trying to show them they are human and they can choose for themselves. I believe everything will be fine and that I can do more for them."
"EVERYONE BELIEVES WITH THE POWER THEY HAVE, WHEN THEY HAVE ENOUGH MONEY, THE WAR WILL STOP ... here! If someone who has power and information about what will happen to those people tells them the truth about what is going on, what they have and what they provide, those people would start their lives, build a new house, start business, live their life here ... But people don't have any info ... They are waiting all the time in front of the ferry, they just want to live here, you can't imagine this feeling ... My idea was to create a workshop here, provide free accommodation and small salary, and after six months, when I teach them something and they gain some experience, they get their own work and pay back from their salary ... But it is a huge project ... Imagine how many people would start their life."
"I don't want to live in this world anymore, because I do not see any future anywhere in the world ... Always control ... Before you even have an idea, they already know what you want and will never let you do what you want. Now I am trying to be against the control, of course, to respect the law but to do something they do not like. Now I am trying to change the living conditions, like cleaning their houses, the surrounding area, working in their garden. I am my own boss, and I'm not even boss to my volunteers. We have some rules in the NGO - if refugees fail to do the work, we try to do it. Personally, I get strength from refugees, they will never turn against me. For example, I was arrested three times in Samos ..."
"If i need to blame someone, I will blame the government. 99,99% of the problem is the government. If they would just explain to their people why those people came, why we have to support them, why we have to help them, welcome them to our country, everyone would be happy ... People who help, they believe their stories or just try to help them, they don't really know why. If you ask me, it is how we were taught. But people get tired, if you try me for one year it will be finished, I promise I would work 23 hours a day. But you don't know how long it will take. In the winter, you start to prepare for emergency, after the winter, you start preparing for the summer. When the summer ends, you start to prepare for the winter. Every day, you have something to do."
Omar Alshakalis is Director and Co-founder of Refugee4Refugee. He works on the ground on a daily basis and oversees the NGO’s entire operations. As a Syrian refugee himself, he brings invaluable insight when designing and implementing humanitarian aid interventions from a practical perspective, using a beneficiary approach to best serve the refugee communities in both Lesbos and Samos. In emergency situations, Omar’s responsiveness is extremely fast, often taking the role of mediator and always knowing what to do, who to talk to and how to keep everyone safe. Omar is an incredible human and humanitarian. He fights inequality every single day, and his drive to help everyone in need is extremely contagious.
Omar fled his home town of Deir Ez-Zor in 2014 after ISIS took control and he was severely injured during a missile strike. He swam for 14 hours from Turkey to Greece to reach safety and, after witnessing the humanitarian crisis that was taking place in Lesbos, he co-founded Refugee4Refugees in April 2017. Nowadays, the NGO is working in both Lesbos and Samos, growing step by step to increase the impact and quality of its interventions.
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Released by MED Land project / photography, editing: BB / cover photo: self-portrait by Omar / audio conversations, BB and Eleonora Pauli, text editing / proof reading: Tadej Turnšek, godfather of the stroy Barbara Ćeferin