You are currently viewing A Palestinian young man run away from war and moved to Serbia to study medicine: Serbia is not as racist as Western countries
Ahmed Hijazi

A Palestinian young man run away from war and moved to Serbia to study medicine: Serbia is not as racist as Western countries

Today he is a MD and waiting the beginning of an internship in Clinical Center of Vojvodina

He was a kid when the last three Palestinian-Israeli wars happend ih his hometown, Gaza. After one of the hardest conflicts in 2014, he left Gaza when he was 17 and moved alone to Serbia. The journey from Gaza to Serbia took seven days due to obstacles with visa and soldiers on the Palestinian and Egyptian sides. Today, Palestinian Ahmed Hassan Hijassi (26) is a medical doctor and will soon start an internship in Clinical Centar of Vojvodina in Novi Sad.

At the moment of arrival, Serbia was not completely unknown to him because his father studied in Pristina 30 years ago, and started a family there, but had to get back to Palestine when the Serbian-Albanian conflict started. Ahmed considers Serbia his second homeland and advises students from the Middle East not to go to “racist Germany” but to “friendly Serbia”.

palestinians in serbia
Ahmed Hijazi

“I have to fight for a tank of water”

“I was in a classroom when an attack happened. The first war I remember was in 2008. For 52 days, Israel was bombing Gaza and we were run out of electricity for 52 days. I remember that it was the first day of school after the holiday. Everyone was racing down the streets. Ambulances were going up and down because the hospital is near the school. The bus that dropped us off at school, came to pick us up. When I got on the bus, I realized that my brother and sister were not there. So, I jumped out of the bus and went to see where they were. I found them in front of the school gate, crying. I picked them up and we all went to my grandma’s house because she lives nearby. After a couple of hours, we went to my apartment.”

This is Ahmed’s memory of one day during a war in 2008 when he was 12. The next big conflict was in 2012 and lasted for 12 days. The hardest was in 2014, which made a strong impression on him.

“We were out of water and electricity. I remember that I had to literally fight for a tank of water to bring home. We used a clay oven and wood because there was no gas supply. In that period, there were 15 people in my apartment. My aunt moved us because her house was near the Israeli border. We had limited food and water supplies. Actually, we were eating canned food only.”

Seven-day fight to get out of Gaza

The war in 2014 coincided with his last year in secondary school. Then he decided to run away.

Rather than where to go, it was more important for him to leave, build his future and help his family. Firstly, he tried to move to Russia, Belarus, and Germany.

“But all of them rejected me or requested so many papers for the visa I could not provide at that moment.”

His continued visa search leads him to Serbia. His father had some contacts in Serbia because he studied there 30 years ago. They helped Ahmed get a visa.

But the struggle to get out of Gaza has only just begun.

The Gaza Strip, which is located between Israel and Egypt, is bordered by walls and it is not easy to get out. The situation was even worse because there is no airport in Gaza. Ahmed had to cross the Egyptian side and take a flight from there.

Ahmed Hijazi

Egypt opens the border every three or four months and only for a couple of days, says Ahmed. And every time the border opened, a huge number of people wanted to cross. Therefore, there were lists of people who could cross on certain days, but it was not easy to put a name on it.

“They took our names, but mine was not there. Only those who had some connections succeeded in putting their names.”

When he finally managed to get on the list, he was waiting for the day when his group was supposed to cross the border. He went to the administrative building near the border.

“There were 1000 people in front of the building, but they allowed only a few hundreds to get in. When they called my name, I came in but they did not believe me because it was hectic and loud and they did not hear my name. I was pushed up and down, I was stuck in the door. I told them that my name is on the list, and they replied that they do not care about the list. Then I showed my visa paper and they said that it was not valid.”

His mother was watching all of that from the window.

“She saw that I was struggling and that they would not allow me to pass. She walked toward me, but a soldier shut the door in front of her and caught her arm. She started to scream. When I saw it, I jumped on the soldier and started to scream. Another soldier came to me, hit me, and took me to the investigative room. ”

During the questioning, the officers told him that his visa was not valid and kicked him off.

“After that, I sat down somewhere in the building and thought that my future was ruined.”

But, at the moment of despair, he comes up with the father of his friend, who can be helpful. That man provided that he would be called again from the list. When he was finally called, soldiers tried to stop him, but he managed to reach the bus somehow.

“When I got on the bus, the driver said that Ahmed was already on the bus. Someone stole my identity. Then I said that whoever did it, has to leave the bus because has no identity proof.”

Finally, the bus set off. Ahmed was on the bus provided for Egyptians who wanted to leave Gaza. He just thought he had succeeded.

“However, on the half way, the driver stopped and got back to Gaza. He told us that he had received an order to act that way. Nobody wanted to leave the bus.”

The passengers later found out that Hamas (Palestinian resistance movement) had made an ultimatum: the bus with the Egyptians could cross the border if Egyptian authorities expended the time of open border. 

They were waiting for the answer for one or two days. The ultimatum was accepted and the bus crossed the border.

Arrival in Serbia: cultural shock and welcoming people

After a long and uncertain fight, Ahmed landed at Belgrade airport on the night of December 25th, 2014. He was awaited by a Palestinian embassy officer who told him that he should go to Kragujevac, where a group of Palestians had already been.

“I went and was located at some of their accommodations for a week. From that point, I started to think about where I should go and what to do next.”

After that, he managed to find a small part of the house for rent owned by an elderly Serbian man.

“He was a typical Serbian host. Rakija every morning and so on. He was talking in Serbian for three hours almost every day, but I did not understand anything.”

Ahmed planned to attend a medical university in Serbia. However, as the enrollment deadline had passed, he had to wait for another one, in October 2015. Meanwhile, he studied Serbian and English.

“The people in Kragujevac were kind. They called me every time to hang out with them. I did not understand any Serbian, but they liked me. They invited me to their house for a meal, took care of me, and I really appreciate it. And step by step, I started to get used to the Serbian mentality.”

When it was time to take the entrance exam for medicine, he tried in Kragujevac in the Serbian language. He wanted to study in Serbian because the scholarship was cheaper than the English course. However, he did not manage to learn Serbian well and failed the exam.

After that, he went to Belgrade and passed the exam in English.

“When I came from Gaza to Kragujevac, it was a cultural shock. When I moved from Kragujevac to Belgrade, it was another shock. They are so different.”

In the first year of college, he met a Palestinian student with whom he shared an apartment. The cost of studying per year was 7,000 euros, and he had to miss one year because his parents could not send him enough money.

“But I really started to enjoy it in Belgrade. I had a great crew. We had house parties almost every day. Every day was an adventure for us.”

studying in serbia
Ahmed Hijazi

Serbia is my second home 

Ahmed gained a bachelor’s degree in Novi Sad because he had a problem with one professor at Belgrade University. He is waiting for an invitation for an internship at the Clinical Center of Vojvodina in Novi Sad and helps students from the Middle East come to Serbia.

“I heard the experiences of my Syrian and Lebanese friends about racist behavior in Germany, Britain, and France. Therefore, I advise them to come to Serbia, where there are no racist people, at least according to my experience. Some people are afraid of Serbia because of the media, where they can hear that Serbs are racists and that they do not like Muslims. But it is not true. I advise my friends to come to Serbia first, and then go to a specialization program somewhere in the West if they want. Serbia is more friendly, it is easier to collect the documents and it is cheaper.”

Separation from the family is the hardest thing for him in Serbia because he has never visited Gaza and his parents have been to Novi Sad once.

“During the holidays is the most difficult for me. When my family and relatives celebrate, I am here alone.”

He has visited Novi Pazar several times so far, a city in the south of Serbia with a mostly Muslim population. He said that he felt as if he was in Gaza. In Novi Sad, there is no obstacle to professing his religion and he regularly goes to the mosque.

After seven years spent in Serbia, he says that no matter how different Serbia and Gaza are, in the larger picture, they have a lot of similarities.

“You are also attached to your family, you care about your reputation in public, you respect your elders, you respect your religion.” In the West, everyone looks out for themselves.”

When it comes to the future and the question of whether he will return to Gaza, stay in Serbia or go somewhere else, he says that life on the Serbia-Gaza route might be one of the options.

“I would not go to a country in the West, I would rather stay in Serbia. I hope to get a job and specialize here so I can help my family. But for me, the best option is to return to Gaza if the political situation settles down. I have a duty to help my people and build our country again. But I will never forget Serbia. I will always consider it my second home. Maybe life on the Serbia-Gaza route will be possible someday. We’ll see. “

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