Hussein was born in Iraq, on October 19th, 1988. In 2005, in Baghdad, during an Al-Qaeda attack, his parents were killed. Since then, Hussein wanted to leave his native country. He had a dream: to become a professional musician. Most of all, he wanted to play and offer his music worldwide, for peace…
He hoped one day to leave for the United States and try his luck there. Today, he lives, among others, with me, within the Josefa House which promotes a sustainable living together, by proposing a co-residence to refugees and other people on the basis that we are all migrants and that it is essential to experience a fair co-integration.
Here is his testimonial.
What was the situation after the war between the Iraqi army and Al-Qaeda?
Before Al-Qaeda, life in Baghdad was pleasant. There was freedom of expression. The cultural life was thriving. When Al-Qaeda invaded the country, a completely different culture was imposed. I did not understand. I was raised in an atmosphere of freedom. Overnight, there was no more respect for culture, for music. Music, theatre and other forms of art were barely tolerated. Iraq was no longer free like before.
What did you do then?
The music academy in Baghdad was still open. In 2010, I registered at the academy as a student. The professors were mainly giving theoretical courses, about the history of music. But my dream was more about being able to play. It was a very difficult period. At this time, I tried several times to get a visa for the United States. But it never worked out. The authorities told me that I could not leave Iraq before 2018 or 2020. I then decided to finish my studies. I graduated in 2015. And suddenly, in the summer of 2015, as if by magic, there was an opportunity to get a visa for Europe. I seized the opportunity.
How did you end up in Belgium?
I came to Belgium in August 2015. It took me approximately two weeks to get here. At first, I was authorized to travel to Turkey. Once there, I was given documents allowing me to leave for Greece. And then, I was able to cross Serbia to arrive in Hungary. From Hungary, I reached Vienna, Austria. After that, I found myself in the refugee camp which the Belgian government had set up near the North Station in Brussels. I stayed there four days before being sent to Ciney, very close to the French border. After Ciney, I spent another two months in a refugee centre, in France. And finally, in November 2015, I ended up in the Petit Château in Brussels. I spent four months there. I travelled this route by all possible means: trucks, cars, train and on foot.
And when did you get acquainted with the Josefa House?
When I was in the Petit Château, life was not easy. I then made a commitment to a platform that was created to help refugees find a more sustainable form of housing. At one point, I had my first contact with the Josefa House. In February, I was invited for an interview with the founders of the Josefa House. I signed my lease and, on June 1st, I was able to occupy the accommodation which was intended for me.
You now live in the Josefa House. What do you think of the reception you were given and of the way of life here?
I very much like the atmosphere that prevails here. I like the peace and the respect for the private life of others. Besides the friendly relationships with the other co-inhabitants, those are two important benefits which are not always present in other forms of housing for refugees. Besides, the concept of the Josefa House is very special. Building a space of "migrations" with a global approach philosophy, between refugee residents and other people not affected by a forced migration, based on the mutual respect of every human being, beyond any race, confession or ethnic group… I believe that it is rather unique in Europe.
Do you have any suggestions for refugees who arrive in Belgium?
The very first thing that every refugee should do upon arriving in Belgium is to learn Dutch or French. Of course, my situation is a little bit different, because I speak English. But if you have no basic Dutch or French, it is very difficult to live in the long run within Belgian society. Language is a fundamental gateway.
Refugees are generally confronted with an important cultural difference. Learning the language of the host country is vital. Certainly, one needs to make an effort to become used to everyday life and avoid the risk of isolation which, for many, is a huge challenge. As is the case for every human being, coming out of one’s shell is hard. But it's worth it.