The energetic Adel talks easily and gladly about his experiences since he arrived in the Netherlands in 2015. He is a former refugee from Syria or, as he himself calls it, a newcomer or any other label attached to it, more about labels later. He had to give up his dream of becoming a diplomat, but he is still a ‘Peace builder’ and is driven to show people who refugees actually are and to dedicate himself to society.
Who are the refugees?
“There are many organisations in the Netherlands that are concerned with refugees. However, I noticed quickly that people know little about refugees, people are afraid of the unknown and in the news outlets you see often only negative information about refugees. The mother of a friend of mine is a teacher at a school, I started to tell them there about life in Syria and I even made a video of myself in the refugee center here in the Netherlands to show how life was there. After that I started to do this at companies and other organisations as well. Meeting each other and talking to each other is important, only then you really make contact and get to know each other!”
Based on the idea of meeting each other, promoting an inclusive society and combating xenophobia, Adel founded ‘We Organization’. This organization consists of several parts. For example, ‘We are refugees’ aims to talk about refugees in a safe environment and to work on awareness. Another part, ‘We the elderly’, organises cultural activities for Dutch elderly people in nursing homes and ‘We the Labels’ is concerned with reversing negative labels by means of storytelling. Adel has given his Tedx Talk Beyond Labels about this. In addition, refugees who want to become entrepreneurs are helped, for example, by making a business model. Moreover, craftsmen who have learned their trade in practice are helped to find a job by means of ‘deeds, not words’. Lots of ambitions and plans for this young organisation.
Which things do you run into in practice? “I have the feeling that I always have to prove myself first. Yes, I have a refugee background, but I also have a life behind me with education and a social life.
So I am more than just a refugee. And how long will you stay a refugee? In general, people are often labeled too negatively, while everyone has so many sides. Media coverage is also often negative and too one-sided. There is still a long way to go, but it is certainly not unattainable; once contact has been made, relationships improve.”
Asking for help, receiving and taking actions
“I think the Dutch are open and tolerant, they are always willing to let people into their environment. They want to help you, but you have to ask for that yourself. As they say in the Netherlands: The ‘no’ you have but the ‘yes’ you can get. In any case, Adel (living in Rotterdam) and the Rotterdam mentality seem to fit well together.
Finally, Adel has advice for newcomers: “start on day 1 to talk and communicate with people. That’s the secret to finding your way around.”