Life after Aleppo
Hasan Al-Akraa. Syrian refugee in Kuala Lumpur, 2016.
12-year-old Hasan Al-Akraa had a good life in Aleppo, Syria. His family owned a big house, but the war changed all that. In 2011, they fled to Malaysia carrying only their clothing.
There were 7 in the family and as all his siblings were of school age, they attended a government school in Kuala Lumpur though they were told they could only observe as they were refugees. “We stayed only 2 weeks and the only thing we learnt were swear words in Malay and Chinese. We were also bullied and made fun of,” Hasan explains.
As Hasan’s father had some medical issues and with a big family to feed, his elder brother soon started work at a cafeteria. Hasan followed soon after, working as a dishwasher at the tender age of 12. By the age of 14, he was a cashier as he could speak English and Malay. His progress was marred by an incident in 2014 when the restaurant was raided by the Immigration Department. Despite presenting his UN Refugee card (the UN refugee card does not give refugees the right to work), he was handcuffed and spent 9 days in jail.
He returned to the same restaurant to work upon his release. Unfortunately, the immigration officers raided the restaurant again. He spoke up this time in Malay. He appealed to them in Malay. “Why are you stopping me from working? If I don’t work, how will I live? Can you live if you have no money?” And he cried.
The immigration officers kept quiet and left him alone.
Hasan learned how to speak English and Malay through watching Malay and English dramas on TV, listened to Malay songs, read newspapers and book and spoke to anyone who would indulge him.
Today, he is a language tutor during the weekends at a language school. Students include refugees from Syria, Palestine, Somalia, Yemen, Afghanistan, Sudan, Iraq and Pakistan. Hasan said that it has always been his wish to be a teacher, to share knowledge with others and his passion was evident during class. The most amazing thing about Hasan is how he taught himself English and Malay well enough to teach others.
During the week, he studies for his O-levels, sponsored by a Malaysian doctor.
Asked about whether he is happy in Malaysia, Hasan said yes but what dwells in his heart is a desire to return to Syria to rebuild his country.