Utrecht is home to many nationalities. Every week, DUIC features an Utrechter with a different background. The concept was inspired by ‘180 amsterdammers’.

We’re no longer refugees; we’re new neighbours

Foto: Marlot van den Berg

“Working charges my batteries!” Syrian-born Tamer Alalloush (30) sometimes spent eighteen hours a day working for platform New Neighbours, an organisation he founded with a Dutch friend. It’s aimed at locals and ‘new neighbours’, the term that Tamer thinks has a better vibe than ‘refugees’. They do stuff together, like going to Tivoli or taking a boat trip through the canals, and they organize events where everyone can meet up. Not as refugees and volunteers, but as equals. “It’s the perfect way to break the ice.” The initiative has already been copied in Zeist, The Hague and Eindhoven.

Tamer is an international law graduate, who until 2015, lived in a country where he has countless fond memories: his home on the mountain in Damascus with a view of the city and the countryside, the warmth of his family after Ramadan and the watermills that are so characteristic of his hometown Hama. The young Syrian refused military service. “The revolution was all very well in the beginning”, he explains, “but nowadays, there’s not a Syrian family left who hasn’t lost someone. All the parties have lost sight of their goal. It’s all about winning now. I wasn’t prepared to help fight a war with no end.” His political views put him in danger and he fled the country.

Dabke night
He made the dangerous crossing to Lesbos on his own, in the hope that he would find a legal way for his family to join him later. He ended up in the Jaarbeurs in Utrecht, but didn’t see his wife and daughters (now 3 and 1.5 years old) for fourteen months. They were finally reunited in November 2016, in his new home in De Meern – his youngest had just taken her first steps earlier that week. Tamer’s wife is finding life in the Netherlands difficult. Tamer: “I work a lot, and she looks after the children. She doesn’t speak English or Dutch, but luckily, Utrecht is the capital of refugees; people here are so friendly and helpful. The neighbours introduced themselves as soon as we arrived. Everything will work out fine.”

During his time in the refugee camp, Tamer volunteered in the old Ulu Mosque, where he made lots of new friends. Together with a Dutch friend, he founded Dreaming of Syria, an organisation that aims to show people ‘the real Syria’. The music, the art, the talented people. And real Syrian cuisine, rather than Dutch-style Syrian food. Many of their events are sold-out, like the regular dance event, the Dabke Night.

Tamer hopes to continue connecting new and ‘old’ Utrechters. So what about an office? No, he’d rather arrange to meet people in cafés around Utrecht, preferably close to his beloved Dom Tower. “We’re here to serve the whole city,” he explains. His work may not earn him a big salary, but it generates so much more: friends, stories, fun (and not just for him.) Tamer’s batteries are always fully charged.

Name: Tamer Alalloush
Date of birth: 11 August 1986
Place of birth: Hama, Syria
Motto: ‘Never take away someone’s hope – it might be all they have left’

Allemaal Utrechters is a series of interviews with people who moved to Utrecht from another country. We ask them about their background and their impression of Utrecht, revealing the true diversity of our city. The ‘Allemaal Utrechters’ series is a collaboration between DUIC and Culturele Zondagen, and has been made possible with help from Stichting Dialoog and the Municipality of Utrecht. We hope to showcase every nationality in Utrecht.

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