From Aleppo to Paris: a Syrian refugee’s story of success

Today marks the six-year anniversary of the Syrian conflict, a grisly reminder of the worst humanitarian and refugee crisis in recent time. Since the conflict began in 2011, more than 11 million Syrians have been displaced, and over 13.5 million are in need of humanitarian aid. 27 year old Shahm Maskoun is one of these refugees. Originally from Aleppo, he is currently a Project Engineer at LUSIS Payments in Paris. He was part of the Western Union delegation that attended the 2016 Summit in Ottawa.

Can you share any personal stories that would shed light on the crisis as a whole?

I was born in 1988 in Aleppo where I completed my studies until the age of 18. In 2006, I moved to Deir Attieh, a small village between the cities of Homs and Damascus to study electronic and communications engineering at the University of Al Kalamoon. In 2011, along with millions of Syrians, a black chapter in my life had begun. War was announced and the killing machine begun.

I started losing friends and members of my family. Alongside many young students in Syria, I joined activists in helping and supporting innocent people by raising money, collecting food and sometimes donating blood for injured persons. My friends and I suffered from harassment because of our humanitarian activities and political opinions. After graduating in 2012, I received death threats on Facebook and my phone. The situation was so dangerous; my parents wanted me to leave the country immediately. I had to leave Syria and everything behind: my family, friends, home, city, childhood and my dreams.

After weeks of depression, I came to the belief that while I had lost a lot, I still had more than I could have asked for. I still had myself; I was still breathing and alive. I could still achieve my dreams.

After nearly one year, moving from Lebanon to Sudan, passing through Qatar, Turkey and Dubai, I finally received refugee status in France in 2013. I had the chance to start a new life by learning French and making new friends.

In August 2014, I received my first Master of Sciences degree in High Frequency Telecommunication Systems from the Eastern University of Paris. The following year, I earned my second Master’s degree in Engineering with honours.  

In June 2015, I landed my first job as an engineer in the domain of payment and banking systems. I also decided to resume my humanitarian activities and serve refugees, especially children, who have, like me, lost everything after leaving their countries.

In November 2016, I was honored to have received French nationality and proud to have been accepted and welcomed in my new society. I am now working with different NGOs and high schools in France, and I give coaching sessions to new refugees who arrive in Europe to help them integrate, continue their studies and be active in their new societies. I want to lead by example and show them that I am not an exception nor did I do the impossible. I tell them they can all rebuild themselves and be like me and even better. I want to support them so they are ready to go back to their countries, when they are safe, with skills and competencies necessary to rebuild them. I want to ensure that we turn refugees into new leaders who will inspire others to succeed in life.

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After all of these years, what future do you see in Syria?

I believe, and I am certain, that things will get better.  

Six years on, the future of Syria is still very dark and unclear. I share with lots of Syrians the idea that the Syrian crisis nowadays has become a war between great forces in the world. Each force is supporting a group of fighters who are acting on their own will in the battlefields. The United States is supporting Kurdish fighters among other groups. Europe is supporting moderate opposition and some others. We see Iran and Hezbollah group supporting the Syrian regime. Russia is interfering in Syria by sending soldiers, weapons and officers.

All of these great forces are supporting their chosen groups with weapons and logistics. Apart from all of this support, which is increasing the violence and fighting in Syria, we have one of the biggest problems, ISIS, which is destroying anyone or anything that is different to them. I believe that the solution will never start unless all forces join forces against them as a common enemy.

The future of Syria will certainly depend on a transitional government, which will guarantee the exclusion of Bashar al-Assad and the preparation of fresh democratic elections for a new government. This government will have huge and hard responsibilities to resolve the situation and start the reconstruction of infrastructure and new governmental institutions. A plan of peace between the different sects of Syrian people must be applied seriously in order to avoid vengeance in the future.

All of these elements, in my opinion, may lead to a warm climate in Syria which will convince and attract different investors and Syrian businessmen who have left the country to initiate new projects and invest in a country that I believe will be reconstructed shortly.

Do you hope to return soon?

Of course, and I am counting the days one by one until this moment arrives. It would be an honour for me to be a part of this young generation that will assist and contribute to rebuilding our beloved Syria, the country that we’ve always dreamt about.

Today as a new French citizen, I love this country that has given me peace and allowed me to pursue opportunities. I am proud that I have a value in my French society as an active and productive person. But, I certainly believe I will add greater value if I go back to Syria when the situation allows. I would not only participate in Syria’s reconstruction project, but I would also work to build the link between France and Syria in order to enhance opportunities and cooperation between both countries.

Below you find an interview with Shahm held at the One Young World Summit 2016 in Ottawa, Canada.