07/11 – World Population Day

Testimony of a young syrian refugee, Aliya

On the occasion of World Population Day dedicated this year to vulnerable populations in emergencies, Dianova recalls the need to assist the most vulnerable populations having fled conflict or disaster in their home countries, and among them women and adolescent girls.

To give a human face to these tragedies, we publish today the testimony of Aliya, a young Syrian who has taken refuge in Europe for some years. She chose that her testimony remain anonymous because she's still afraid for her parents back home.


Aliya friends usually describe her as a young woman full of optimism. At 25, she is a source of moral support for her family. She welcomes us flashing a white-toothed grin. She's radiant because she had a call from her younger brother last week who's just arrived in Greece and she hopes to see him soon in France, where he could benefit from the precious refugee status like she did.

Did you participate in the early protests against the regime?

Yes, at that time I was highly politicized and I used to attend the very first events with a group of fellow students. At first, everyone was demonstrating peacefully. I remember that the leaders were determined to avoid violence, for they said that violence would backfire on us. At that time, I was very excited and I regarded the rallies against the regime with very high hopes, I had the impression that we would eventually be able to change the Syrian society through a popular and non-violent movement.

Unfortunately, everything rapidly broke down and violence set in. During the month of April, with some friends of my group, we went to Homs, a city about 150 km north of Damascus. We wanted to support the protesters there. It was during one of these demonstrations that I witnessed real executions. Crowds thronged the streets peacefully when suddenly we began to hear people screaming; everyone was panicked but no one could understand what was happening. I was scared silly but I tried all the same to continue filming as a testimony, when maybe ten meters from me, a man fell and then shortly after, a woman. This is a scene I will never forget.

Can you explain what happened?

We understood what had happened later, after speaking to various people. Apparently some members of the "Shabbihas" the pro-regime militias were firing from rooftops. They were snipers. There was a carnage among the protesters, maybe a dozen deaths. As soon as I returned to Damascus, I put a couple of videos on YouTube and a few days later a journalist from France 24 news channel contacted me. Later on I was denounced to the security forces by an informant of theirs; I was then questioned by the police and excluded from the university overnight.

This is when you decided to leave?

I was terrified, for myself but more importantly for my family. I was scared to death should something happen to them. I decided to leave my country with a friend of mine who was pretty much in the same situation and after a long journey through the first refugee camps in Turkey, then Greece, I finally arrived in France.

Why did you choose France?

 At the time, I could speak quite good French already. Before arriving I mean. I chose France also because some cousins ??had settled in this country in the 80s. Still, I remember that I felt a little humiliated because I consider myself a rather educated woman, I come from the Syrian middle class and I found myself forced to beg for what is supposed to be a right to asylum. In my family, France has always been the country of human rights, but when I came, I found the steps to be particularly difficult. In addition, we have no right to work before obtaining the right of asylum

How is it going for your family?

As I told you, my younger brother decided to try his luck and leave the country because he had been arrested several times by the police. He also went through Turkey and Greece. In Turkey, he was hosted in the huge refugee camps that were created there. He told me that he had lived for several months in this country, but the situation is becoming increasingly difficult as more than a million Syrian refugees are in Turkey and it is beginning to cause major problems with the Turkish population. He said he had arrived in Greece via smugglers to whom they bought their passage on a half rotten fishing boat. The smugglers left them to fend for themselves and the boat broke down in the middle of nowhere. They were very lucky because they ended up stranded on a Greek island and the authorities took care of them.

As for my parents, for now they are still in Damascus. I can speak to them often enough, but the situation is not easy and I am always scared for them. We really expect the family to reunite. Right now we're trying to make it through the official channels, because we don't trust smugglers. It'll work, hopefully.