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Place of birth: Aleppo, Syria
“Marhaba babi…” (Hi Daddy). It was the phrase Raghad – my daughter – used to introduce her audio recordings to me. I kept one of these recordings. She sent it recently to check on me and to tell me that she was going to eat a “waffle” with her mother and her brothers. Since she passed away, I cannot stop myself from listening to these few seconds that remain for me from the voice of my beloved, the rose of my heart, the joy of my life – “Raghad”. My heart trembles every time I hear it. A torrent of tears cannot be stopped. Images and memories of her leap into my imagination and before my eyes. My chest becomes too tight to breathe, and the sighs suffocate me. This was how her voice was always: strong, full of life, joy and confidence. She was a source of hope, of reassurance and comfort, of which I never got tired, during my long asylum-seeking trip.
After we fled Syria and moved to Turkey, we decided that I should travel to the Netherlands alone in order to obtain asylum residency. I would then bring my wife and children to live there for stability and safety and in pursuit of a better life for my children. It was the hardest decision I ever made. I didn’t want to leave them behind, but I had no choice. Raghad was the most excited, eager and enthusiastic to travel and move to our new life. She would call me every day and talk about her longing for me and about her longing to come to the Netherlands. Every day as I talked to my wife via video call, Raghad would jump behind her, reach out for me, and call out in her warm, affectionate voice. In the Netherlands, I missed nothing more than our daily online conversations. I spent eight months away from my family, but they did not leave my mind for the twinkling of an eye. Hopes of seeing them and meeting them soon comforted me during the torments of travel and the difficult, humiliating and long procedures of seeking asylum.
I said goodbye to Raghad and her two brothers on the evening of October 28, 2019, and left at dawn the next day. I said goodbye to my wife at the door of the apartment, and I did not know or imagine that I would return someday and not meet my beloved daughter Raghad! “It shouldn’t take that long, three or four months, no more,” – this is what I promised them, and this is what I could not fulfil. It wasn’t in my hands. It was a nightmare. When the coronavirus pandemic swept the world, government departments and institutions stopped working for more than two months. Work subsequently resumed very slowly. I obtained residency in July 2020. It was a special month. I had fulfilled my promise to my wife and children, I had got residency, and I submitted an application for my family to be reunited, so we could be together again.
The same month, on the 19th was my wife’s birthday. And the birthday of my dear Raghad, was on 26th July. It was a Sunday, and my sweetie was 12 years old that day! I was confused on that day, as I was far from her, about how I could surprise her with a gift to express my pride and love for her. This is what we used to do every year, and she always surprised me on my birthday. I collected some pictures of her through different stages of her life and collected them in an Instagram post with the phrase “Happy Birthday Raghad”. An hour later I received a video call from her, thanking me for this gift, she loved it so much. Or perhaps she knew that this was all I could do in my faraway place, so she wanted to comfort me and not leave me downcast. She was jumping with happiness. I will not forget her voice that day, her eyes sparkling with excitement and joy. She told me: “we will go out to the market with my mother and buy my gift that I have chosen for myself, then we will go to eat to celebrate my birthday”. She was so happy and I wished her a special day and a happy birthday. This was the last contact, the last conversation, and the last call.
The next morning, I got a call from my brother-in-law, an unusually early call! In a faint voice and with heavy expression, he told me that Raghad had had a traffic accident yesterday in the afternoon. She was transferred to the hospital and was now in intensive care. Yesterday! It was her birthday! I had talked to her, and she was going shopping with her mother and siblings! When and how …? I have never known a more miserable moment in my life than that moment … I floated on my bed, thinking about distances and hours, what should I do, how do I get to her, how is she now? I gathered myself in a few minutes, regained my strength and started calling all my family members and people that used to be there. Perhaps one of them would give the phone to Raghad so I could talk to her and tell her that I am coming soon.
But Raghad was in a severe coma. Her small heart had stopped for minutes, and her brain stopped responding due to a severe swelling. No one could tell me anything except that she was in a critical condition. The next day, I flew back to Turkey. I went straight from airport to hospital, and to the intensive care unit, to see her stretched out motionless. She did not greet me, she did not speak to me, she did not embrace me and kiss my cheek. She was on a white mattress, an innocent angel, bad fate smashing her dreams, aspirations and joy on her birthday. The wheels of that car silenced her beautiful stories and imagination that she shared with us about her dream for her own quiet room on the top floor of her new country house, when she could travel. “When I come to the Netherlands, I will have a small dog or a pup” – that was her condition, and a bike, and a new phone befitting a beautiful young woman! She would stick to her new vegetarian diet, even if we didn’t support her decision to stop eating meat out of compassion and love for animals. What angel are you, my little girl?!
Twenty-seven days I spent near her there, visiting her every day and talking to her, hoping that she would hear me and respond. I kissed her head, hands, her slender feet, and cried bitterly behind every wall, away from the eyes of my wife, my children and my parents. She did not respond and no one could save her, so she lay in my arms. My sweetheart passed away on the morning of Friday, August 21st, or maybe at the same day of accident! But what we were sure of was that she left, she left too early. My angel’s story was winded up by the unfair fate.
Raghad had rested in peace in her fınal resting place in Bursa city in Turkey, at sunset the same day, and we left lonely.