Fill 6

July 29, 2016

Looking back: Syr Connect(s) “Citizens of Utrecht”

written by: Merijn Rutten

‘By talking to each other, a connection is made.’

The recent influx of refugees has sparked extensive public debate in the Netherlands, the Dutch city of Utrecht being no exception. Due to the nature of this debate, it sometimes forgotten that refugees are far from a new phenonomen in our city. In fact, (ex)refugees have long been active members of and have made a positive difference in our local community.  During the Storytelling Night ‘Citizens of Utrecht’ at restaurant Syr, three inspiring speakers take us on a journey between past and present. All three of them were forced to flee their homes for different reasons, in different time periods. All three succesfully managed to build new lifes for themselves in our beautiful city. How did they succeed?

It’s Monday night, half past 8,and the sunny weather really calls for a relaxing drink on the terrace of restaurant Syr. Luckily, there is still some time left before the event starts. This also gives me some time to talk with visitors about their expectations of the evening. ‘There is always so much talk about refugees, now we finally have the possibility to hear their story’, 38-year-old visitor Cathelijne comments.

Grab your chances
When everyone has found a seat inside the restaurant, the first speaker takes the stage: Nasra Bashe. The 38-year-old Somalian came to the Netherlands alone at the age of sixteen. After all these years, she still doesn’t know on which train station her smuggler dropped her off. To make ends meet, she worked as a production assistent for five years. Untill she lost her job: ‘I was sitting at home and thought: what am I doing? I have a good brain and I can do more than this!’


Nasra finished college and became a projectleader at Faces of Change. A foundation that supports refugees in finding their place in their new home countries . Nasra: ‘Refugees have had such a long period of anxiety and uncertainty. I feel like a big sister who can help them. My advice? Do not wait until things come to you, grab your chances!’

See me as a human being, not as a refugee
Then it’s time for ‘our’ Mahmoud (21), one of the cooks at Syr. He fled Syria one and a half years ago. When he heard the Dutch language for the first time, he thought he would never be able to learn it. However, he progressed swiftly. He talks about his life in Syria before the war, the long period of waiting in the asylum centre, and his work at Syr, all in Dutch.


Afterwards there is room for questions, and people eagerly raise their hands. How can Dutch people support you? ‘By seeing me as a human being, not as a refugee’ Mahmoud responds. What is most important to you? ‘To learn Dutch and be in contact with other people.’ And what do you miss the most? ‘My parents, my brother, my house, the streets of Damascus: basically everything. I miss my life before the war.’ The crowd is silent for a while. Mahmoud sees the dejected faces in the room. ‘It’s gonna be alright’, he reassures them. Under loud applause, he makes room for the next speaker.

‘By talking to each other, a connection is made’
It’s the Vietnamese Tiffany (45). She was 9 when she was forced to flee her homecountry on a decaying small boat. After having been stuck at sea for 21 days,  the people aboard were saved by the Dutch freight ship Antilla Bay. By then, several passengers had already passed away. ‘The images of the current situation break my heart, I can relate to refugees, their feelings of desparation. It is so important that there are people who help you and who show you around a country that is completely strange to you, she tells us.


For a long time, Tifanny did not want to talk about her past. ‘I didn’t want to feel like a refugee, but now I realize how important it is. By telling my story as well as the stories of others, I can give refugees a human face. Only if we talk to each other and listen to each other, we can connect. At this moment in time, this connection is of utmost importance.’

This Storytelling Night is made possible by Ongekend Bijzonder and is part of the cultural summer programme of Syr Connect. Would you like to be kept informed of upcoming activities? Check out our Facebook page!

Do you want to support the brave plan of Tiffany?
Tifanny has a brave plan: she wants to reunite those that were stuck with her on sea, as well as the rescuers, the crew of the Antilla Bay. In addition, she wants release a book about this emotionally charged history. She recently started a crowdfunding campaign to collect the necessary €2.500. Would you like to donate? You can make a one-off donation through a simple bank transfer.


The following bank details should be used:
Account name: Pham
Account number: NL53 RABO 0154 4541 41
Description: ‘Antilla Bay 1981’.

If you have any questions contact Tiffany via
Thank you kindly in advance!

Photo’s by Aziz Kawak.