The Czech Republic has remained largely unaffected as refugees have fled the war in Syria. But there are some Syrians who have found asylum in this country. One of them is Majed Tafesh, who has been living in Prague with his family for a little over a year. Zeina Kanawati, who herself comes from Syria and is studying journalism in Prague, had the chance to meet Majed and talked to him about his experiences. He began by telling her about his search for a flat in the city.
“It was not easy here in Prague to find an apartment especially for foreigners, but some friends from Denmark contacted their friends here and we met two ladies, Kateřina Čechová and Iva Roze. They found a very nice flat for us and started supporting us, they opened for us a lot of opportunities to make contact with Czech people here. And all of them were very nice and supportive. I can’t explain how much Kateřina and Iva still support us and help us to make our life easy in Prague. They have opened for us a lot of opportunities to make it easier to start a new life here, so I think these two ladies are our angels.”
What are you doing here now?
“First I must get a Czech language course to start to speak and write, to find a job, and through these two ladies and other friends I got the chance to contact a lot of companies. But I understood that I need language before I get any job. So now I try to help people in need because I have the time and I don’t have a job, so I volunteer to help refugees in Drahonice camp and Bělá camp; also we go once a week to homeless shelters to prepare food for them, and I even push my daughters to help also, so they go every week to help old people in a centre outside Prague. I am trying to do many things so I don’t stay without doing anything and without a job.”
And what do you do to help in the detention centres for refugees?
“I go with the Czech people. Usually I help them to translate Arabic to English, sometimes Spanish to English and to fill the applications for these people with lawyers to help them sort their problems in these camps, if somebody wants to settle here or continue to another country.”
Do you think refugees are not welcome in Prague?
“Really I didn’t find this, but I believe there are some people who don’t like the refugees. I believe it is normal for some people to accept them and for others not accept them, so for me, I must respect their opinion, if they like us or they accept us here or not. And also from my side I must do what must be done to let them accept me, so I believe if we start talking to them maybe they will change, maybe if we do more with the media to let them know why we came here, maybe they will change their mind. And also we came here under the law; we didn’t break any law by staying here. The law allows us to apply for asylum here.
“I got the chance to go to another country and get asylum there but when they gave me the choice, I chose the Czech Republic by myself.”
What do you think is special about this country?
“I passed a lot European countries before and it’s the first country where people come to you asking if you need help, usually you must go to people and ask them for help, but here it happened to me many times and to my friends, and I saw a lot of Czech people, old, young, women and men who come to people when they notice they are confused to help them find the right direction, or the right tram. They come and ask: Do you need help? That never ever happened to us in any other country in the world.”
Does it feel at home already?
“If I say yes I won’t be saying the truth. It is a safe country for me and my family, especially for my daughters, because it’s the first time I allow my daughters to go out up till 10 o’clock in the evening, and I am not worried about them using public transport. But for me, I don’t feel it is home because your heart stays in your home country. But I can continue my life here without any problem.”
How long do you think it is going to take for Syria to get back to a safe situation?
“From the beginning a lot of people came to me and said, in Syria the war will finish in one or two years maximum. From the beginning I told them if the situation in Syria ends in 5 years, it will be amazing, but I believe it won’t finish before 10 to 15 years.”
Majed, I can see you are doing many things here, you have this positive energy to help others and to be productive. I heard you are also participating in the “Prague Food Festival”?
What are you doing?
“That’s because of our angels Iva and Kateřina. You won’t believe it: I wasn’t here and they registered a stand for me at the food festival, and they spent three days with me, helping with their cars, and took me to buy my things. Iva Roze stayed with us all the days to help sell the food and welcome people. These ladies do unbelievable things for us, I went there just to sell my food, everyone accepted us, and Iva even invited all her friends to come visit our stand and taste our food.”
Majed, I want to thank you so much, it is always a pleasure to meet people like you.
“Thank you for giving me the chance to speak about nice people. We now have not less than 250 Czech friends, and any time we need any help, you won’t believe how many Czech people call us to check what we need, and to offer their help. It is amazing, that’s really making our life easy in Prague. We are settled here and we believe this is really our home.”