My name is Amal Nasr. It means “hope in victory” in Arabic. For me, victory would be overcoming violence in all its forms.
I am from Syria. I have been involved in feminism and political activism since the 1990s, when I worked peacefully alongside many Syrian men and women. We were striving to bring down the dictatorial regime, build a homeland of freedom, dignity and justice, and bring about a Syria based on human rights and the rule of law.
We wanted a clear constitution that separated religion and politics, and that enshrined the separation of legislative, judicial and executive powers. I was also actively involved in trade unions, fighting for worker’s rights to be independent and free from the regime’s political influence.
But our revolution was transformed into an armed conflict. This is a war between the ruling regime, which has stolen our homeland in every sense of the word, and those who hijacked the revolution and sold our freedom to whoever was willing to pay. It is Syrian civilians who have paid the price for this war, with forced displacement, death and devastation.
I hope that one day I, my family and all displaced Syrians will be able to return to our homeland freely and independently. I believe that, ultimately, those Syrians who lead the struggle with their pens, thoughts and will, are more dangerous to the regime than those who fight.
In Syria I got a degree in Economics from the University of Damascus, and worked as an occupational health and safety trainer at the Damascus labour union. I am now pursuing my Ph.D. degree at the University of Amsterdam in the Netherlands.
I have endured a lot due to the security situation in Syria. My husband, a politician, was detained on many occasions between 2012 and 2013. I myself was arrested on 2 March 2014 by the military intelligence agency upon my return to the country from Geneva, where I’d helped launch a women’s peace initiative at the UN.
After my arrest I was placed in a solitary confinement cell with 11 other women, aged between 13 and 86. The cell measured 1.5 by 2 meters. I was interrogated on charges of terrorism before being transferred to Adra women’s prison. I was finally released in May 2014 but remained under investigation as a terrorist. This meant I was fired from my job and denied all my entitlements, after 20 years of work, and a travel ban was issued against me.
Using irregular documents, I managed to travel to Lebanon in September 2014. There I was able to get a visa to Switzerland, by virtue of the fact that I have a history of activism with some international and Swiss organizations. After arriving in Switzerland I applied for asylum, and in 2015 I was issued a residence permit as a political refugee.
Through Amnesty International’s help, I have been able to reunite with my husband in Switzerland after years of separation, at the hands of the Syrian regime and because of visa difficulties. But our daughter, our only child, had her application for reunification with us denied because she is over 18. She is still in Syria and I am often overwhelmed by fear for her safety. Our tiny family is separated by long distances, mountains and seas. There are thousands of Syrian women with similar stories.
I try to keep hope alive wherever I go. My husband and I have opened, in collaboration with a Swiss organization, a school that provides free lessons to Syrian children in Lucerne. We teach Arabic and tell them about Syria before the violence. Syria is such a diverse country, in its landscape, history and culture. We teach these children about Syrian heritage, history and thought free from any political or religious ideology. We try to instil a sense of Syrian identity that I hope will one day contribute to the rebuilding of Syria.
I have faced many hardships that I could never have predicted. I never imagined that I would be a refugee in another country. I do not know how long I will have to stay outside Syria without my only daughter. But I still dream of peace and freedom – we cannot overcome obstacles if we accept that the future will be the same as the past.
Amal shared her story as part of Amnesty International’s #mynameisnotrefugee campaign to mark World Refugee Day.