From hell to school

‘As a refugee people will underestimate you a lot’

Heba Dakkak (now 19 years old) fled from Syria to the Netherlands in 2015. She learned Dutch, graduated from higher general secondary education and started studying Journalism very quickly. Even then, she still feels like she is not taken seriously sometimes.

It is spring in 2015. Heba Dakkak has been used to war now for a long time. ‘It was not uncommon for tanks armored vehicles to drive through my street.’ Her city Aleppo is divided between the Syrian government army and rebels of the opposition. But the situation is growing more urgent. Rebels want to take over the entire area and are attacking civilians. ‘Bombings and sharpshooters in our neighborhood, it was true hell. We could not go to school or go grocery shopping safely.’

Dream country
Heba’s family decides to flee. They travel to Damascus by bus, a ride that usually takes about four hours. ‘But because of the danger we had to take the military route. That took fifteen hours. Horrible! You couldn’t sleep and at every military checkpoint you had to show your legal documents and the luggage was checked every time.’ They fled to neighboring country Lebanon, flew to Istanbul from there and from there travel to the Netherlands. ‘I was so relieved that I was finally in a safe country where I could start a life. We received money from the government and support from all sorts of organizations.’

‘The Netherlands is my dream country. You complain a lot, about politics for example, but compared to other countries you should be very happy. Everything is available and you’re allowed to do anything you want. At school, you get many chances and choices. In Syria they kick you out of school if you fall behind. In the Netherlands, you can always do a lower level education and choose a course that really suits you.’

When it comes to religion, Heba, who is an atheist, doesn’t feel completely free in the Netherlands. ‘In Islamic Syria I wasn’t allowed to share any criticism about Islam and other religions. Here in the Netherlands, I would like to do that, but it’s actually not really possible. People feel discriminated quite easily and start calling you an Islamophobic. I am surprised by how the Dutch side with refugees and Muslims. Here is freedom of speech right? I almost feel discriminated against for being an atheist.’ On the other hand, Heba does feel that the Netherlands is one of the safest countries when it comes to religion and freedom of speech. ‘You should be very proud of that.’

The first thing Heba does in the Netherlands is learning the language. ‘In Libanon, I watched a lot of videos on YouTube and downloaded an app to practice Dutch words and phrases. Because of that, I already knew the language a bit when we arrived in the Netherlands. At the language school I attended afterwards, I was one of the fastest students.’

Proving yourself
Heba knows that she wants to study Journalism and is searching for the quickest way to do that. While, like most refugees, she is advised to go to community college, she chooses to do a faster higher general secondary education course. She works very hard and graduated within a year. In September 2017 Heba starts the Journalism course. She becomes insecure because she feels like she isn’t seen as a whole. ‘As a refugee you get underestimated a lot. I noticed that fellow students take me less seriously. When it comes to group work, my ideas were often ignored. Even outside of school, people ask me why I chose to do such a difficult course in which the language is very important.

It made me insecure and I would start to wonder whether I had made a stupid decision by starting this study programme. Only after I started getting good grades, my fellow students would start to take me more seriously and became interested in my ideas. As a refugee you really have to prove yourself and earn your spot. ‘The Netherlands is such a wonderful country for people from other countries wanting to start a new life, especially for children and minors. I received so much from the Netherlands, I hope I can give something back. I will keep working hard at school. Later in life, I want to go to Syria as a journalist and create items about the war.’

Jitse Schipper



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