When Abdul-Ghani Badenjki speaks about his homeland Syria, tears run down his cheeks. He has been living in Ghana for just over four years. He speaks to Stacey Knott about life as a Syrian refugee in a new land.
Abdul and his wife Ghadeer Badenjki are visiting Pulse.com.gh with their friend and translator Ibrahim Ahmed. Through him, they explain their frustration and heartbreak when they think about their homeland.
The have had family and friends killed in the conflict. They don’t know where other family members are.
The family arrived in Ghana in 2011. It was early days of the conflict in Syria.
Back then, Abdul couldn’t imagine he would end up living in Ghana. But now, he and his family have be granted refugee status here, and they are currently planning for extended family members to leave Syria and come and live with them, facilitated by the Government of Ghana who are allowing Syrians in to escape the war.
Abdul is the spokesperson for Syrians in Ghana.
He’s a doting father, and wants the best for his children. He has two with Ghadeer and four with his first wife who is currently in Turkey with their oldest daughter. The younger three live with Abdul and Ghadeer here in Ghana. He drives the older ones from their home in Tema to their school in Accra everyday.
On a visit to their family home in Tema, it is evident there is a lot of love in this family. Abdul affectionately plays with the younger children and chats away with the older ones.
Ghadeer is an incredible cook. She sources food the family were used to in Syria, baking breads, pizza and putting together Syrian spreads. Back in Syria she worked as a teacher for 11 years.
She remembers the indiscriminate killing and the stifling lack of freedom the President Bashar al-Assad regime imposed.
She saw young people shot because they would wave tree branches yelling “freedom”.
“When they say freedom they [the regime] just send security people and they shoot them,” she says.
Abdul was an Imam back in Syria. He has continued to teach Islam here in Ghana. He says life is not easy for them in Ghana, they are in a foreign culture and they worry about their family, friends and compatriots suffering in Syria. They also struggle on the little money they have.
They never planned to stay, the whole family arrived here four months after the war started. Abdul came with the intention of teaching Islam and the Arabic language to Ghanaians.
“Later on I was trying with my family to return to Syria but I realised what was in the field, the war killing people and it started expanding all over the country,” he says.
“When I came here it was not my intention to stay here forever in Ghana...when I realised the war and people even in Syria who left the country because of the war, it is impossible to leave Ghana and go to Syria.”
His house in Aleppo has been destroyed.
Abdul and Ghadeer say ten years ago things were okay in Syria.
“Life was alright, there were jobs, in terms of income there was no problem and the family was alright. After the ten years, before the war started, those who were enjoying the country and those who were not having any problems were only those who had money. But those who were poor, it was very difficult for them to stay,” Abdul explains through Ibrahim.
They remember the tyranny of life.
“When anyone tries to say something against the regime or the government or any member of the government you are in trouble...it got to the level even the children they know about that, no one can talk, anyone who attempts to talk about these things, they take him and no one will know where they are going to put him,” Abdul explains.
His wife adds that the regime would use propaganda on those who were not against them.
“They even put some things in the minds of those who are not actually against the regime to tell them to come out shouting and saying on the road ‘I will defend you my president with my life and my blood’ - so if you are against this one they will kill you straight away.”
She also struggled to be able to practice her prayers.
As a Muslim in Syria you have the right to perform or to do what your religion tells you to do, especially in terms of time and place, she says.
“When the war started there was no freedom to perform prayers.”
She would try and hide to pray but if she was caught there would be trouble “as if you are praying against the president. It’s not like that.”
And ISIS, the terror group causing havoc around the world and in Syria, as Abdul says “they are not helping the civilians to have their freedom."
Instead, they are brutally killing innocent people as the Assad regime is.
The ones being killed “are not killing anyone else. They are children, women and innocent people, civilians who even don’t have guns,” Abdul says.
His sense out outrage and frustration clear.
While life is different in Ghana, there are positives for the family.
“Ghana is a beautiful country and a peaceful country and also they have wonderful people who love each other.”
There are other Syrians spread through Ghana and Abdul is trying to bring them all together.
He’s honest about life here, saying he’s not the only one struggling.
With his teaching he is not earning an income, but his family is being assisted by a Lebanese friend.
Abdul explains he is trying to get by and support his family.
He can’t picture his future here. He wants to go back to Syria but knows this is not possible with the regime and ISIS destroying his country.
He met with Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration Minister Hanna Tetteh earlier this month, and said the Minister told him the Government is concerned and wants to help Syrians come to Ghana as refugees.
Abdul has a letter from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Regional Integration, signed by the chief director AMB. Leslie K. Christian, written following Abdul’s meeting with Tetteh, stating the Government plans to bring in Syrian refugees to unite them with family already here.
Abdul was asked to find the number of Syrians here and details on their families and those who would want to come to Ghana.
The letter said the Government would support the refugees to resettle, live and work legally for as long as they choose.
Abdul has about ten family members he wants to bring in as well, but does not know when this will happen.
He thanks the Government of Ghana, and says the announcement makes him happy.
A peace-loving man, he says Muslims and Christians belong to the same God, and believes other Syrians will be well accepted here in Ghana.
“They will leave Syria because the war is still going they will find peace of mind here and try to get a job to settle their lives.”
The Ghana Refugee Board programme coordinator Tetteh Padi told pulse.com.gh there are currently 110 Syrian refugee and asylum seekers in Ghana.
He said since January when the Government announced Syrians would be welcome to apply to come to Ghana, the board had received 15 applications, all from Syrians already in the country.
The announcement opening the doors to more was “not much of a big deal” as Syrians who would come here would do so because they had family here already, Padi said.
Those 15 who applied after the Government announcement were already in the country, whereas Padi said those who applied before then would have done so from outside Ghana. The 15 are currently being processed and until they receive refugee status, they are considered asylum seekers.