It had been a ‘smooth’ journey. He had even ‘been able to enjoy a holiday on a Greek island’. The Syrian refugee A. starts the meeting in C hall with the boldness of a 17-year-old. Later, during the conversation with over 20 students, it appears that his flight from Aleppo to Woudestein had actually been slightly more complicated.

The meeting was organised by Bob Scholte from The New University Rotterdam. Over the past few days, Bob has struck up quite a friendship with A, who speaks English fluently. He’s a typical teenager, like any other you find in Rotterdam. Hobbies: gaming and manga. Subjects at school: maths, chemistry, physics. “It was all rubbish.” But a very untypical life story.

The editors of EM have decided not to print his full name and photo because he is an under-age asylum seeker.

38 people in an 8-person minibus

He was 14 when the war broke out in Syria. Bombs exploded at the university in his district in Aleppo. “Students were treated really badly,” A. tells the group. His family subsequently decided to move to Dubai. But after three years he was no longer allowed to stay there, so he set off for Europe.

The ‘smooth’ journey starts with a bus trip through Turkey, with 38 people crammed into an 8-person minibus. “The worst thing was that we had a sick woman with us who couldn’t walk anymore. She cried and cried. We couldn’t do anything for her, just carry her with us.” After three and a half hours in a rubber boat, A. landed on the Greek island of Chios. He spent his ‘holiday’ in a cell: as an unaccompanied minor, he was detained. On his release, he manages to reach the Netherlands via Serbia, Hungary, Austria and Germany. The journey takes him a month.

‘Good night’s sleep’

The students have lots of questions. What’s life like in the Erasmus Sport buildings? “The food is good and I get a good night’s sleep. OK, there are some irritating children around,” he laughs. A. hasn’t noticed any negative sentiments against refugees. “The police have been very kind, and so have the volunteers and staff at Erasmus Sport.”

As a gamer, how does he now regard war games like Call of Duty, which glamorise violence? “I enjoy those games even more now. For example, in a Call of Duty game from 2010, I once saw a wall with graffiti on it saying ‘Bashar [al-Assad, ES] out!’. I mean, that’s cool!”

The terrorists are travelling the other way from Europe to fight in Syria, so why would they go back?


More serious issues are also discussed. How can A. be sure that there are no terrorists among his fellow refugees, for example? “That’s total nonsense,” says A. “The terrorists are travelling the other way from Europe to fight in Syria, so why would they go back? And when they’re already there, they don’t have to pretend.” And what will happen to A. after Thursday, when the refugees have to leave Erasmus Sport? “No idea yet. We haven’t been told anything.”