Omar is a 32 years old male refugee from Kobbaijep- Syria. He moved to Canada a year ago under the asylum program. His story started 9 years ago when he started his bachelor degree in music at the University of Damascus. His first year was “hell” as he described it. People didn’t like the way he talked or walked. He was mocked once by one of his teachers. He felt depressed and ended up dropping out and working in a clothing store for the last 7 years. His business was fine. He traveled to Turkey many times to make orders and ship them to Syria. He got married in 2012 and divorced a year later. He has a child named Nassif and he is now supposed to be living with his mother in Germany as the last time they have met, they were applying for asylum to Germany.
When the war started, Omar didn’t have a problem entering Turkey, as he entered it before many times for business and never had problems. He was even well known by some of the customs agents. His passport had only Turkish stamps. He entered Turkey with his parents and sister. He had another sister who decided to stay with her husband in syria. He has no idea how is she doing today. They lost all contact after the chemical attack.
Turkey was not fun for him, usually, when he came he stayed a week. He just made his orders and left. This time, the situation is different. He had to settle in Istanbul and start a new life. He got a job easily as he knew many people in the clothing sector. He even had many job offers. But things were not easy. He didn’t speak Turkish and he had to deal with Turkish customers. He got harassed in the street, he didn’t know whether it was because he was Syrian or because of the way he walked. He just didn’t understand what was said about him. 5 month later he applied for asylum in Canada. And a year ago he moved to Mississauga- Ottawa with his parents. His sister started to study child care in Toronto.
Settling down in Canada was easy, he said. Things were just prepared and all services were offered. Even though he spoke poor English, he understood what he was asked to do. Omar diddn’t have a job because of the language barrier. In Mississauga, people only spoke English. He used Arabic with the Arab community only.
And when I asked, how is life? he smiled. A very big smile. So, I smiled back because I understood what he had in his mind.
Still you get harassed? He answered “No, but once in a kabab shop a woman called a She-Male, I didn’t expect that. But another woman said, that I have rights in Canada and can make a complaint and it will be taken seriously… I’m happy”
Yes, learn English and start dating, I only met with some Arab men. But I’m intrigued by Canadians. Even if they start chatting on Grindr, I most of the times don’t get what they say. So, I just answer that I don’t have good English. The end of the conversation!
Omar is a homosexual male with a very feminine look. We first met at the military base in Quebec City when they first arrived. We gave him information about the facilities offered for the LGBTQ+ community in Canada and the health services offered to him. This interview was first held via skype and registered. But for his safety, we decided to delete the video and not use it. So I suggested to just summarize the interview and post it as an essay.
Best of Luck Omar and looking forward to seeing you in Canada for the BIGGEST Gay Pride in Montreal this August.
This is just one example of the important work produced YaLa’s citizen journalists, a program funded by the European Union’s Peacebuilding Initiative in order to enable young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa to document and share their experiences of the region.