Updated: Nov 10, 2020
An immigrant leaves his homeland to find greener pasture. A refugee leaves his home country because the roof over his head is being bombed, threatened to death, or persecuted.
The story you are about to read is an inspiring narrative story of courage and motivation from an asylum seeker to a role-model student at Tampere University.
I met Mazin Al Qawas in 2017, two years after he came as an asylum seeker from Mosul, Iraq in 2015. After three years of knowing him, I was encouraged to write about his life struggle and journey coming to Finland. Against all odds, the trauma, family separation, disputed schooling, and endless waiting for a place to be accommodated in the university didn't discourage him to give up. It became the driving force that kept his hope and his dreams alive.
Mazin earned a degree in Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering, major in Power Electrical Engineering in 2011 at the University of Mosul. With the demand of his profession, after graduation, he was employed immediately by a private company, CORAK which specialized in expanding networks in the city of Duhok, the northern part of Iraq. Assigned as a site engineer, he was responsible for the maintenance of a power system for 580 sites for Asiacell company covered all over Mosul city. He was doing an excellent job and enjoying the field he was into. But that didn't last long when the chaos started to emerge in Iraq particularly in the city of Mosul.
In 2013, many things began to change that sadly affected his work and to mention his life. The ISIS began to intrude and made a deal with the company where Mazin worked. They demanded money and threatened him with death if he doesn't comply with the agreement. “That time, my life was not safe anymore. I started to receive death threats on my social media and on my phone. The situation is very dangerous and it's getting worst every day.” Mazin remembered how unsafe it was to even see his family. Visiting them would put their lives in danger as well. Leaving the house does not guarantee a safe return. Every attempt to go out is putting your life to risk. No one can be trusted.
In 2014, ISIS already took over the entire city of Mosul. “I had to leave Iraq and everything behind: my family, friends, city that I grew up in, and my dreams. I wanted to leave the country immediately but it wasn't easy to just run away because I was newly married. If I have to escape, I need to take my wife with me... My wife, Sarah, and I escaped to Turkey.”
"Starting life in Istanbul was not either easy but we didn't have a choice. At least we're safe. We rented a cheap apartment with barely anything inside but junk. It's old where its roof leaks and water drips from the ceiling when it rains. It's what we can afford to budget our money until we can find a job, and If we are lucky enough to get one when we don't even speak Turkish. We didn't spoil the time to pass away without knowing the right thing to do. We applied for asylum seekers the earliest. We made an appointment with people who we believe could help us. We went into an interview which was not promising because there's a lot of money involved with it. We were told that in order to have a slot for an interview proper, we need to pay a fixer a few thousand US Dollars. If we're lucky enough then we will receive an appointment at the UN office in Ankara. We realized that we don't have much money. If we choose to go through the process then we will both starve and be left without a roof to cover our head.”
In April of 2014, Mazin braved to join the groups of refugees fleeing to come to Europe. His dangerous journey from one country border to another is a story that has been told by millions of refugees who risked their lives to find a safe and peaceful country that will give them new hope to start a new life in a foreign land.
Mazin survived the first year living in the refugee camp in Kajaani, a town and municipality in Finland located at the southeast of Oulujärvi (Lake Oulu). Just like many other refugees, he struggled with depression and grief but he realized the only way to heal was to volunteer and study. It brought him joy to volunteer at the Red Cross while enrolled in the Finnish language course. “I wanted to utilize my time. I wanted to be useful, to be productive and challenge myself that I can do it!”
In July 2016, Mazin got a positive decision from the Immigration of Finland. Not wanting to waste time, he immediately processed the application to petition his wife under family reunification. After a year, his wife arrived in Finland in January 2017.
Determined to push through his study in Master of Science in Electrical Engineering, Mazin strived harder to get into the university. He qualified for the Open Path Study Program at the University of Tampere and to finish by 2021. Now that Mazin is a Finnish citizen, he would like to take advantage of the privileges offered to him and hoping someday he would give back something in return to this country aside from having volunteered at Red Cross and Teko-hanke.
“My love for this country is immense. It has given me peace and allowed me the chance to pursue my studies. I'm fortunate for the opportunities that paved an avenue for me to fulfill my dreams. I am proud that I can see my worth in this Finnish society as an active and productive individual. Realizing all these, I'm motivated to encourage other asylum seekers to do the same by helping them find their way to be immersed and have a sense of value. I would like so much to be a voice for the speechless. It is important to help people recognize the refugee crisis and to educate them to understand what’s going on." Mazin's story has a clear message to the world that people also need to recognize that refugees and asylum seekers respect their right to determine how and when they share their stories. He has chosen to share his story with OMA to bring awareness. Empowering refugees does not have to come through emphasizing their heartbreaking stories. So many stories have been told and heard about the challenges of young people adapting to an entirely new education system. The difficulty of adjusting to a different culture, and finding employment remains to be a struggle. If we are genuinely interested in supporting refugees, instead of just dealing with their past, we should focus more on stories about their present and their future.
Photos above: The Teekkari dipping is one of the cornerstones of teekkari culture in the city of Tampere. It is an annual event celebration that offer the opportunity to be dipped to all students who started their studies in the field of technology at the Tampere University in the academic year 2019-2020.