Before the war in Syria, Nour Machlah lived a happy and normal life. “My life before was like everyone else, I was with my family, I was studying at university. We were in a good situation. Then, when the war started and I lost almost everything”, he told The Portugal News.
In those gloomy days, Nour had no choice but to leave the land where he was born in order to complete his studies. And so he did. After passing through Lebanon and Turkey, Portugal was the next stop.
Rejected in the UK, accepted in Portugal
Nour went to Lebanon in 2012 because he was trying to apply for a visa to join his parents in the United Kingdom, “but the Home Office rejected me at that time”. While in 2021, Nour had been in London two weeks ago visiting his family “because now I am a Portuguese citizen”.
At the time, the Syrian student applied to the Jorge Sampaio Platform for Syrian students and was accepted. “In 2014, my main reason for coming to Portugal was to continue my studies and also to have a place where I could start a new life”. And it was in Portugal, more specifically in Évora, where he found it. Something he feels he owes to Jorge Sampaio.
Jorge Sampaio, the Portuguese former President of Republic, who passed away recently, was the founder of the platform where Nour applied to complete his studies in Portugal. “Jorge Sampaio will always be missed. He was the reason how my life changed from being a homeless refugee who didn’t know where to go, to the one I’m living today. He helped me to complete my education and arranged a safe place for me to live in Portugal since 2014. Because of him Portugal became my home and Portuguese people became my family.”
Although he loves Portugal from the bottom of his heart, his life was not always easy. All in all, Nour loves this country and believes that the fact that some individuals have discriminated against him does not define an entire community.
“I was called many times a terrorist and other very bad words, but that was not because Portuguese people are racist, it is because some people are ignorant. They were judging based on ignorance. However, in general, my colleagues at university, my neighbours and the general people I meet every day, they are very nice to me”, he said.
Regarding discrimination, “social media comments are always very sad, especially when the article is talking about sufferers, like people dying in the Mediterranean, and then you see someone saying: 'send them back home'. Back home where? They don’t have one. Their home was destroyed, some of their family members were killed”, he said.
We are currently facing a new situation where Afghans are fleeing to find a new home. In relation to this problem, Nour argues that we all have a duty to help.
“We are all humans in the end. I cannot say that I’m better than someone else just because I born in a different place. I know that people are worried about their security, but it should not be an excuse not to help. We can always help by taking responsibility for our community”, he said.
“As a Syrian, we received many refugees in Syria before the war. We had refugees from Iraq, Sudan, Palestine, Greece, and Armenians and we hosted them. Yes, some refugees are bad people, in all communities there are good people and bad people, but I cannot judge an entire community based on individual behaviour”, he explained.
Nowadays he is based in Lisbon after having already managed to become a naturalised Portuguese citizen, even despite some economical problems that Portugal faces, Nour feels he wants to stay.
At the moment he works as a Policy Advisor on Integration and Inclusion for Migrants and Refugees in the European Union. “I was member of the European migrants advisory board as well as a main speaker at the European Parliament many times, my work is about the transformation of Government and Public Policies on the issues affecting immigrants and refugees and I have worked relentlessly to achieve improvements in integration processes".
“I live in Portugal and I think that I have everything I need in this country, but as any other Portuguese citizen I struggle with the lack of opportunities in Portugal and there are some better opportunities abroad, but I like many things in this country, such as: the people, the food, and also the feeling of being in Portugal. In short, I love the country, so I’m trying to survive. Money is important for me, but it’s not my priority. I don’t know the future, but for now, I want to live here. Portugal is my home now”, he concluded.