Written by Jamie Osborn
I met Moaeed at his home in a quiet suburb of Geneva. He couldn’t leave the house to come to meet me, as he was looking after his two children and his wife, who was sick, so he had invited me to come to him for coffee. This proved how important Moaeed’s family was to him. The apartment was tastefully furnished and we sat in comfortable armchairs while the children ran around us, playing.
This didn’t look like the stereotypical image of a refugee. “I had a luxurious life in Syria,” Moaeed told me. Seven years into his professional career as a charter flight manager, he was able to live prosperously in Damascus and had brilliant prospects. “I didn’t leave because I wanted more money”, he insisted. Rather, he left Syria for the safety of his family.
Moaeed’s wife is Swiss, and in 2012 they were contacted by the Swiss Embassy in Syria, advising them to get out of the country as soon as possible. The situation there was about to get much worse. Anyone with Swiss nationality was a target for bounty-hunters who would kidnap foreigners and demand a ransom for their release. Moaeed’s wife’s own uncle was kidnapped not long after they left.
With his level of professional experience and qualifications, the Swiss Embassy official had assured Moaeed, he would find employment easily in Switzerland. Indeed, Moaeed was already familiar working in Switzerland, as he had on several occasions represented the aviation companies he worked for at the EBACE air show in Geneva. Coming to live and work here more permanently, he thought he knew what to expect.
But five years later, and despite sending in hundreds of applications, no one has so far been willing to give him a job in Switzerland. Moaeed suspects it may be because of his nationality. He admitted that “If I say this it is because I am desperate”. He didn’t want to believe that it could be the case that Syrians would not find work. But he has received stock responses that no one had thoroughly read his applications. He can’t help feeling employers assume a Syrian refugee would be unstable, unprofessional, a liability to the company.
Everything about Moaeed shows that that couldn’t be further from the case. Despite his clear anxiety about his future – especially what it means for his family – he spoke clearly and thoughtfully when we met, in excellent English (which he taught himself). He is calm and enthusiastic at once. “It’s my passion”, he says of his aviation career. But he has also applied for a huge range of other jobs. “I am willing to do whatever job, no matter how challenging,” he said, with striking conviction.
Sports help him keep positive. He admits that exercise gives him an adrenalin rush: it is his caffeine. In Syria, he was an expert horse-rider. His energy and enterprise are two of his biggest assets, and he insists that in spite of all the disappointments and problems he has faced, he will remain positive. What he most wants, he says, is to go back to his normal life, the life he worked for and loved. He will do anything to get there – and his positivity and determination should be enough to give anyone hope.