Syrian expat hopes to educate Japan about his nation’s plight



Assi Alghazali’s “quiet but peaceful life” came to an end suddenly with the outbreak of civil war in Syria.

Alghazali, 24, fled from his war-torn country to Saudi Arabia, and later came to Japan and got married.

Now he is working to make Japanese aware of the situation in Syria — his home, to which he hopes to return one day.

Alghazali is from Daraa in the far south of Syria, near the Jordanian border and some 100 km south of Damascus.

Since the Arab Spring pro-democracy movement spilled over to Syria in 2011, with rebel forces launching armed revolt against the government’s crackdown on dissident movements, fierce battles have continued in his hometown.

At the conflict’s outbreak he was a college student majoring in civil engineering, but it became difficult for him to travel to the university after a military checkpoint was installed nearby. Then an area near his home was reduced to rubble as the conflict raged on.

Ten members of his family, including his parents and some of his siblings, left the country after feeling their lives were in danger and are now scattered across the globe from Germany to the Netherlands and Saudi Arabia. Two brothers remain in Syria.

“This fight is not for my country. It is just chaos,” said Alghazali.

Alghazali is now living in Tomakomai, Hokkaido, with his Japanese wife, Natsue, who is 20 years his senior. The two met through an online social networking site and married last August.

“I have to live my life here,” said Alghazali, who works as an English teacher while studying Japanese. Hoping people in Japan will pay more attention to what is going on in Syria, he also takes every opportunity to give talks about the situation in his homeland.

“Japanese people . . . care about only daily life, more than the outside (world),” said Alghazali.

“Most people don’t think about war (in) Syria. . . . They need to know more not just about Syria but about (what is happening) everywhere in the world because (there are) so many places with problems.”

Japan’s inward-looking nature is further demonstrated by the government’s refugee policies. According to the Justice Ministry, a record 7,586 people sought asylum last year in Japan. But only 27 people were granted refugee status, compared with 16 the previous year.

Alghazali and his wife are now trying to find a way to send stationery to children living in refugee camps, to alleviate their boredom and help them have some normalcy in their lives.

If they can bring some joy and education to children in camps, it will perhaps give them an escape from the conflict, something Alghazali sought in Japan.