Syrian teenager who crossed Europe alone and almost drowned makes a new life in Liverpool

Mustafa Muhamed enjoyed an idyllic early life with his family until conflict destroyed his community and he was forced to flee alone. Now he is rebuilding his life thanks to local organisation 4Wings. Tony McDonough reports

Mustafa Muhamed
Mustafa Muhamed, a refugee from Syria now living in Liverpool. Picture by Tony McDonough


It is often not until we find ourselves in turmoil and pushed to the limits of endurance that we appreciate how resourceful and resilient we can be.

Mustafa Muhamed, now 20, enjoyed an idyllic and comfortable childhood. The Syria in which he lived was a politically oppressive regime but, growing up on a farm with his mother, father, three brothers and four sisters, this reality barely touched his life.

‘Like a king’

His Kurdish family owned a farm close to the city of Kobani. Mustafa, who at that time had ambitions to become a doctor, said: “My life before the war was more than happy. I went to school and I came home. We weren’t rich but we were very good for money and we had a number of cars. I felt like a king.”

As a young teenager Mustafa became more aware of the political situation outside his idyllic world and that life was dangerous.

The growing unrest in Syria proved a magnet for fundamentalist Islamic groups such as ISIS, whose fighters arrived in in the region around Kobani in 2013 and in 2014 the ‘Siege of Kobani’ began and, by late 2014, ISIS was in control of hundreds of towns and villages.

Kurdish exodus

Hundreds of thousands of Kurds fled to Turkey and Mustafa, then aged just 16, joined this exodus. He explained: “Everyone from every other war came into Syria. ISIS came into my town.

“Our house was destroyed bu my father had another house where my grandfather lived. In 2015 the ISIS – about 80 of them – came to Kobani and they killed about 300 people. They killed my mother, my father and two of my aunts.

“I ran away from Syria in August 2015. If I stayed there I would have ended up fighting with someone, anyone.”

So, barely an adult, took what money he could get his hands on and fled alone to Turkey. From there he boarded a tiny boat overloaded with 50 refugees. The boat capsized and Mustafa and his travelling companions spent five hours in the water before being rescued and ending up in Greece.

Put in prison

He added: “I then went to Macedonia, Serbia, Hungary. When I was in Hungary the police arrested me and put me in prison for one week – I was treated like a criminal. Then I went to Austria and then to Germany.”

Mustafa Muhamed
Mustafa Muhamed, a refugee from Syria now living in Liverpool. Picture by Tony McDonough


He stayed with a friend in Germany for 20 days before then traveling to France, where he stayed for two months. He jumped onto a freight train heading through the Channel Tunnel and arrived in the UK. He was recognised as a refugee and spent a short period of time in Birmingham,  Wolverhampton and Sheffield, finally arriving in Liverpool in June 2016.

“When I came my original plan was to live in Manchester but I like it in Liverpool. Now I study GCSEs in maths, biology and physics and I am also learning English functional skills.”

Mustafa has found support through Liverpool city centre-based community interest company, 4Wings. Director Ciiku Sondergaard explains how they support him: “We all have our battles in life but few of us could imagine a situation where the place we have called home all our lives suddenly becomes a war zone and we are forced to leave.

“That is a traumatic experience that no one should have to endure – particularly someone as young as Mustafa.

“His story is not unusual. Here at 4Wings we offer a range of support for people who have arrived in the UK and do not know where to turn. He is a courageous and resourceful young man and our aim to to help him begin to build a new life here in Liverpool.”

Ciiku Sondergaard
Ciiku Sondergaard, a director at Liverpool-based 4Wings


Daily struggles

Mustafa’s ambition is to go to university to study civil engineering. He says he feels like part of his life has been taken from him. He explained: “If I was in Syria now I would be finishing at university – now I maybe won’t go for another three years.

“When I was there I would go to school with friends and then come home to my family. Now I go to school alone and come home alone.”

And it is that sense of isolation coupled with traumatic memories of what he left behind that makes some days a real struggle for Mustafa. He added: “I live alone and I don’t really know anyone here. This city is a good place to live but some days I do not feel good. I feel lonely and when I remember what happened in Syria it becomes very hard. I open my books but because what is in my head I cannot study.

“I remember everything from Syria. I was not there when my parents were killed but my little sister was. On some days these things are very had to think about.”

Staying put

Although his parents and other members of his family were killed, all his siblings survived the conflict and are dispersed across Syria, Iraq and Turkey. However, he has no desire to return.

“I never want to return to Syria. If I went back they would take me to fight. This side is from Syria and that side if from Syria. Who would I want to kill.. why would I want to kill them?

“I call my brother he tells me about who has killed who and it is all too much. Everyone in Syria fights. I don’t want to fight.

“I would like to stay here in Liverpool even though I don’t really know many people. It is very very hard for me but each time I try to making things better and try to forget everything I have seen.”

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