Rami Hilamia is a young entrepreneur from Syria about to start his new business in Arnhem. He arrived in Nijmegen in September 2015 brought by the desire to build a better life for him, his wife and their little daughter. After four and a half years living in the Netherlands, Rami tell us how it is to start a new life in a new country.
Written by Denise Moura
Illustrated by Maaike Borsboom
How was your experience of moving countries?
It was difficult, stressful because we didn’t know by then what would happen. So I left Syria in August
2015 to go to Turkey. I lived there for one month to get a feeling of the situation in the country and I didn’t
like it. They didn’t give me the status [of refugee] and I couldn’t work. So thinking of the well-being of my family, I decided to come to Europe. My journey started when I took a boat from Turkey to Greece, and continued by bus crossing many countries: Greece, Macedonia, Serbia, Austria, Hungary, Germany and finally the Netherlands. I have spent nineteen days travelling in buses until I arrived in Amsterdam, where I stayed for two weeks. After that, I was brought to Nijmegen, to the camp.
I stayed in the camp for seven months and then I received my status [of refugee]. During that time, I started to learn English, as I couldn’t speak English at all, only Arabic, and later I also started to learn Dutch. At the same time, I started to build my network in Nijmegen. Seven months later, the government offered me a house in Leiden, near Amsterdam. If I refused the house, they wouldn’t give me another one any more and I would have to take care of myself. Because I have already formed a good network in Nijmegen, I refused it. That was a really difficult choice, but I don’t regret it. I rented a student room, where I lived for three months. During that time, I had the idea to start a catering service just to see how that would go, as cooking was my hobby, and I started to work in a restaurant, at the same time, to have more income. Three months later, I found a house and, in February 2017, my family came to the Netherlands. I lived here without them for about two years.
What was the most difficult thing for you when you arrived in the Netherlands?
Starting from scratch. When I finished my studies in Syria, high school, I started to work with my father in his socks factory. I worked there for some years until I was able to open my own business.
I was working for seven years and I built everything. I also got married, I had a house, everything in place. But I had to leave all behind, come here and start again from scratch. My daughter was only six months old when left Syria. When I saw her again she was already two. So the most difficult things were to leave my family and to start from scratch again. I couldn’t speak Dutch and I only had experience with socks factories which is useless in the Netherlands once they don’t produce it, but import it. So I thought: “what can I do here without experience, without speaking the language?”, and the idea of the catering came to me. And it is going quite well now.
Tell me more about your catering company.?
I started my catering company, in the summer of 2016. I found an empty place, a huiskamer, where I started to make some events and I had the idea of a pop-up restaurant. Every Friday I offered a buffet. I had the popup restaurant for two years and during that time I also worked in another restaurant for seven months, to have more income. But while I was working in the pop-up restaurant, I started to receive private orders for catering. So I left the restaurant to focus on my catering business. After four months, the business started to grow, and I was still thinking how I could make it even better. Two months ago, I had the idea to open a shop to sell food, daily meal, but eco-friendly, home-made and also with good price. So I needed an investor, a business partner. And I found one. He is my friend. We found a way to get the money and today* we are going to register the company. We have already found a place, so we will also sign the contract this week.
Is the Netherlands home for you?
It is home for me. People here are very kind and my network is good. If I had my family and my friends here, the Netherlands would be home one hundred percent.
What do you want people to know about refugees?
I have seen, many times, refugees being recruited
for simple, basic work, without taking into account
that they have different backgrounds, skills and
knowledge. However, because they can’t find a job,
especially due to the lack of the Dutch language,
they push them to do simple work. When people
have to do it, it is like a burnout. I know some people
in this kind of situation. They are not happy in their
lives because they do something they don’t like and they are aware that they could do more. For me also. They pushed me a lot to do something simple and I refused. I try to take care of myself. So I have always fought to have my company working and now I see that I just need a little more time to make it even better. What is your advice for someone who is coming to
live in the Netherlands? Sometimes people give up when they face difficult
situations. I advice them to build a good network and fight. Don’t stay at home. Don’t say no to anybody. Talk to people, see different things, ask what you need to know. I didn’t feel satisfied. I always wanted to do more. Show to the Netherlands’ community that you can do anything.
*Interviewed on 05/12/19