The day of July the 9th 2015 I will never forget. We passed the sign showing “You are now entering the Schengen Border, Restricted area” and saw the Norwegian flag. All three of us from Syria were so happy and couldn’t believe it was true. We had been prepared of difficulties passing the border, and was surprised that it was so easy. The police took our fingerprints and checked if we had applied for asylum in another EØS/EU country according to the Dublin agreement. I was in doubt that we really had entered the Norway, because all signs around were both in Russian and Norwegian. I could hear the police officers spoke in Russian language, but they were so kind and helpful. They asked for my papers as passport and other documents they needed for my application. I felt anxious to give them these papers, because I was afraid and those papers was very valuable for me. But somehow, I trusted the Norwegian police officers.
When I was accepted as asylum seeker in Storskog, I felt a tremendous relief. At last I could start a new life in a free and democratic country. It became not quite as I had hoped. After three hours we were flown to Oslo and transported to Tøyen and the police reception there. There they took our laptops and mobile phones. I could not call home to Syria to tell I was arrived to Oslo, the capital of Norway. But they luckily new I had crossed the border in Storskog. Later they have told me how anxious they had been. I can understand they were worried for their son and brother, out in the big world, totally alone. At the same time, they were happy for me to escape from this terrible, meaningless war into a free and democratic country.
I knew no one in Oslo, had no money, and like many others, we had to find makeshift accommodations. I lived in a staircase in three days, slept on the floor while I waited to be interviewed by the police. I can guarantee that it is not comfortable to sleep like that, at the same time to make sure your turn in the queue. A small bag contained all my belongings. Not something valuable, but it was all I had in these uncertain times. The bag I still have and I will take care of it as a memory of a young man’s escape from the war. A man who left his family, his parents and siblings in the hope of a safer and better life. A man who had suppressed himself as gay, always lived a life in the closet that no one else should know about.
After three days I was interviewed by the police. Someone I had always had respect for, but also a fear of. I was puzzled if I should tell I am gay or not. I thought that they knew about the war and would give me permission to stay regardless if I were gay or not. I knew how to live a life in secrecy in Syria and could continue that. I was too afraid that they would not consider my application if they knew I was gay. My experience from Syria and Russia told me to be careful about promoting my homosexuality. In Syria homosexuality is associated with shame. There are no words for this in the Arabic language, Lot is the word many use and refers to perversion and sodomy. I had learned myself not to talk about my feelings in public or in front of other people. At that time, I didn’t know about the liberty, democratic and this land of human rights. I didn’t tell the police I was gay.
They asked me for all my other papers, like my army book, my school and education papers. I was raised in a near-dictatorial country where one can never know what the authorities, the police and the military would use against me, what could be appropriate to punish. Of one reason or another I felt assured by those who interviewed me and gave them the documents they asked for. In the interview, I chose only to tell that I had been critical of the President’s regime, the arrest and the conditions in Syria.
I remember I was asked about if I had applied for asylum in any country in EU or Schengen. I didn’t know about the EU, the Dublin agreement or Schengen. I answered yes, Russia, then I felt so afraid again. They saw my fear and told me to relax, Russia is not a part of the EU or the Schengen area, either not a part of the Dublin agreement.
The interview lasted for two days, Sunday and Monday. The second day I got copies of my papers and I could relax. Instead of my documents I got an ID as asylum seeker. I was transferred to a special reception center called Refstad. There I was for three days where my health conditions were examined from head to toe, there were questions about tuberculosis, HIV, and other diseases. Infectious diseases were apparently in focus. I have learned that Norway have their own laws to protect citizens against infectious diseases.
My application for asylum and protection were sent to the UDI, immigration office in Norway. After Refstad I was transferred to a special reception in Oslo, Torshov asylum reception center for newly arrived refugees. Together with my two friends who I crossed the border with.
The life in Torshov and the time after I will tell in the next article