After a long journey from the chaos of the Syrian civil war to pursuing a higher education in London, a 19-year-old Syrian refugee shared his insights with Anadolu Agency on the eight-year war, the problems faced by refugees, and Turkey's efforts to help the region.
Marking Dec. 18, International Migrants Day, Ishmael Hamoud told how he travelled illegally from Syria to the U.K. to continue his education. Now he studies global politics and international relations at Birkbeck, University of London.
When he was just 15, Ishmael’s high school closed down due to the ongoing Syrian civil war, forcing him to drop out. So he decided to leave his hometown of Aleppo to study.
“It seemed impossible to make a journey to Europe at my age, but I decided to flee to keep up my education,” said Ishmael.
But leaving his country was difficult, as he was born into an aristocratic family deeply opposed to the repressive regime of Bashar al-Assad.
He had concerns about the life of his family.
Syria has been locked in a vicious civil war since early 2011, when the Assad regime cracked down on pro-democracy protests with unexpected ferocity.
Hundreds of thousands of people have since been killed and more than 10 million others displaced, according to UN figures.
After talking to his family, Ishmael started his perilous journey with some cash on hand.
He crossed the border into southern Turkey thanks to the government's open-door policy and made his way to the capital Ankara, hundreds of kilometers away.
Some two months later, he travelled to Izmir, in Aegean Turkey, which has been a hub for irregular migrants and refugees seeking to illegally cross to the Greek islands and thus Europe.
When Ishmael arrived in Izmir, he got in touch with smugglers with the help of other refugees.
“I took a boat from Izmir to Greece, but it was all illegal," he said.
Despite the numerous tragedies that befall refugees in the Aegean Sea, Ishmael ended up lucky.
“My first attempt to cross was successful,” he said.
“I didn’t have any trouble, but [then] I had to get all the way from Greece to France. So I travelled through Macedonia, Hungary, Austria, Germany, France, using all different types of transportation like trains, buses, and sometimes walking.”
After one-and-a-half-months, his journey ended in the Calais refugee camp in northern France, on the coast opposite Dover, England, a camp which has suffered from a bad reputation.
Ishmael said the migrants in the camp called the place a "jungle."
Ishmael stayed in the camp for 13 months, but said It would be unfair to Turkey to compare it to the “jungle.”
“Turkey makes people live in very good conditions. The camps have everything that the refugees need such as education facilities, and medical and infrastructure services, which are fully supplied and very comfortable,” he said.
Ishmael tried to reach the U.K. several times by boat, but he was caught many times.
Just a couple of weeks after being caught and sent back to Calais again, Ishmael was accepted into the U.K. under a British law known as the Dubs amendment.
This amendment -- named after British politician Lord Alfred Dubs due to his effort to pass it -- allowed 3,000 children to seek asylum in the U.K., but was later abandoned due to mismanagement.
Decades earlier, Dubs and his family were forced to flee their hometown in Czechoslovakia to escape Nazi persecution.
Thanks to the law, Ishmael became one of about 350 refugee children to come to the U.K. legally, putting him one step closer to his dream.
Despite his years in refugee camps and on the road without any education, he earned a spot at Birkbeck, University of London’s Department of Politics.
Sharing his ambitions, Ishmael said: “I want to be a diplomat, so I could work on Middle East policy and make a better future for the Syrian people.”
'Turkey is second home for Syrian refugees'
Ishmael said choosing a different path from others requires some sacrifices.
He added that he struggles with being alone and missing his family.
“I talk to my family over the phone. Going back to my country isn’t an option for me. Because under British law, you can’t go back to the country where you came from,” he said.
But according to him, Turkey serves as a second home and meeting place for many Syrian refugees unable to visit Syria itself.
“Turkey isn’t just a meeting place, it became a second home for Syrian people. I met with my family last Christmas. I went to Ankara and they came there from Syria, and we met,” he said.
He stressed Turkey’s importance for the Syrian refugees in Turkey and worldwide, saying: "No other country in the world worked more than Turkey for the Syrian people."
Praise for Turkey’s anti-terror operations
Ishmael also praised Turkey’s anti-terror operations in northern Syria over the last several years to establish a safe zone for Syrian people as an amazing step.
“This is the first step in cleaning the border region of terrorists. Hopefully, the Syrian people in Turkey who live in the camps could go back to Syria and start to work to rebuild their homes,” he said.
Now Ishmael works in the British Parliament with Dubs, 87, a member of the House of Lords. And he hopes to help other people who have similar problems as the ones he faced.
Turkey is the world's top refugee-hosting country and adopted an "open-door" policy for Syrians following the eruption of the bloody civil war in 2011.
Since then, nearly four million Syrians have fled the war-weary country, taking shelter in Turkey.
In recent years, the Turkish government launched three anti-terror operations in northern Syria: Operation Euphrates Shield, Operation Olive Branch, and Operation Peace Spring.
All were meant to secure Turkey’s borders, and Operation Peace Spring in particular -- launched this Oct. 9 -- is meant to aid in the safe return of Syrian refugees and ensure Syria’s territorial integrity.
After the launch of Operation Peace Spring, Ankara forged two separate deals with the U.S. and Russia under which YPG/PKK terrorists would withdraw from the planned safe zone, where Turkey wants to repatriate the refugees.
The operations and agreements eliminated thousands of YPG/PKK and Daesh/ISIS terrorists, allowing hundreds of thousands of Syrian refugees to return to their homes.
In its more than 30-year terror campaign against Turkey, the PKK -- listed as a terrorist organization by Turkey, the U.S. and EU -- has been responsible for the deaths of 40,000 people, including women, children, and infants. The YPG is the PKK’s Syrian offshoot.
** Ahmet Gurhan Kartal in London contributed to this storyAnadolu Agency website contains only a portion of the news stories offered to subscribers in the AA News Broadcasting System (HAS), and in summarized form. Please contact us for subscription options.