Starting from Scratch
By: Mariya Redzhova
Krushevo, Bulgaria -
When Nadim Djelal arrived in Krushevo in 2013, a mountainous village in the middle of nowhere in southwestern Bulgaria, he could not imagine ever settling there.
Djelal, a 28-year-old Syrian, is one of 4,320 war refugees who made Bulgaria that year, a European Union country known for its less-than-friendly attitude towards immigrants, their new home.
Krushevo has a population of 200 pomak people. Djelal and the other refugees were welcomed in the village by an old English couple, Lilly and Jan. The couple provided them with shelter for 9 months. The people in the village soon started being comfortable with the newcomers, too.
However, after a few months, Djelal and the rest of the refugees tried to leave Bulgaria in order to go to their dream destination - Germany. But Djelal did not manage to pass the borders and was sent back to Krushevo. He came back to Lilly and Jan, who he now refers to as mom and dad. “If it wasn’t for them, I wouldn’t have had a place to stay,” Djelal said.
Lilly and Jan were not the only people who helped Djelal – the mayor of Krushevo, Angelina Kachamakova found a new place for him to stay on his own. The old kindergarten/school which had to close down because there were no children in the village became Djelal’s new home. Kachamakova also got him a job at the sewing factory in the neighboring village and started teaching him how to speak Bulgarian.
“I’ve always told him that when he decides to settle down and start a family of his own, it will get better,” Kachamakova said. “He didn’t want to stay here at first, but after he was sent back in 2014, he started thinking in a different way,” she said.
“He shouldn’t try to run away from Bulgaria – it’s his home now, too,” the mayor of Krushevo said.
Three and a half years ago, Djelal dreamed of running away to Germany with his family. Now, he is more than happy working at the sewing factory. “I’m thankful that I have a job and that I have friends I can rely on,” he said and continued, “Everyone here has helped me so much.”
Djelal has found many friends in Krushevo and the neighboring villages. One of his best friends is Sabri, who also helped him learn how to speak Bulgarian. Sabri’s next mission is to teach his Syrian friend to read and write in Bulgarian. Together, they travel around Bulgaria and explore its beauty. “Bulgaria has the most beautiful nature I’ve ever seen. It’s quiet here - I’m used to cars and buildings everywhere. I’m happy that I escaped the noise of the big city,” Djelal said.
Yet, it is still hard for him to be away from his family. “Some of them are in Turkey, others in Germany and some are still back in Syria.” His only way of keeping in touch with them is through the mobile application, WhatsApp. “We send each other pictures and we have video calls so that we stay close to one another,” Djelal said.
“When my friends in Syria see the pictures that I send them, they say: You’re in heaven,” Djelal said.
Even though he is worried about his friends in Syria, he doesn’t ever want to go back. “If I go back there, I will have to go to the military because of the war,” Djelal said.
Instead, Djelal wants to become a Bulgarian citizen. He wants to build his own house in Krushevo and settle down. “I want to find a nice girl and get married and have a family.” But he is happy as it is right now. “I just want to be healthy. I have friends, I know the language. It’s easy now. When I first came here, it was really difficult,” Djelal said.
Nedim Djelal has come a long way since he first arrived in Bulgaria. He was forced to say goodbye to his friends and family but he eventually found new ones. Now, he wants to become a legal citizen of Bulgaria and only visit Germany to see his loved ones. But his home is now Krushevo.
Djelal is lucky – he has a job, a place to live and good friends. However, most refugees in Bulgaria are not so lucky. They are put in camps and their only mission is to find a way to run away from Bulgaria. Why? The conditions that they have to live in are very poor.
According to a research conducted by the Bulgarian National Television, only 12 refugees in Bulgaria receive social help from the Bulgarian state and that is simply because of their disabilities. Bordermonitoring Bulgaria (BMB) states that if the conditions don’t get better, more and more refugees will try to escape.
What is more, there are people like the infamous “migrant hunter” Dinko Valev, who sees every refugee as a potential terrorist and tries to scare them away.
Nedim Djelal, however, is not scared or upset. He tries to focus on the positive things in his life:
“I’m just happy to have my freedom back,” Djelal said.