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Photoscape / A longing for Syria, family

The Yomiuri Shimbun

Mohammad Nayef speaks late at night to family members living in a refugee camp in Iraq. He looks forward more than anything else to hearing his children’s voices on the phone. (Photos were taken in Saitama from Feb. 27 to April 4.)

By Koki Kataoka / Yomiuri Shimbun Photographer“It’s usually around this time,” Mohammad Nayef said in an apartment in Saitama shortly after 2 a.m.

Laying in bed, the 34-year-old Syrian made a phone call to his family, who are living in a refugee camp in Iraq. He does so every night when the phone reception over there is stable.

As he heard his daughter, 6, and son, 2, singing a melody from the popular Japanese game “Yokai Watch” on his smartphone, the stern look on his face relaxed.

More than 5 million people have left the country since the Syrian conflict began in 2011.

In 2013, Nayef, who was a driver in Damascus at the time, narrowly escaped an airstrike that allegedly used chemical weapons. The following year, his house was bombed and he fled to neighboring Iraq with his family.

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  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Nayef checks a letter from the Saitama municipal government in his apartment where he leads a frugal life with the bare essentials.

  • The Yomiuri Shimbun

    Nayef chats with a man, left, who supports his life in Japan, after having a meal together. From future life in Japan to the situation in Syria, they never run out of topics to discuss. Having someone like this man, with whom he can communicate in the same language, means a lot to him on days when he is consumed by loneliness.

“I want to live in a safe country,” he thought. To build the basis of a new life, he came to Japan on his own in autumn 2015.

In March 2016, he applied for recognition of refugee status in Japan. However, he was not granted the status and now remains in Japan by renewing special permission to stay, which he obtained on humanitarian considerations.

As of March, 69 Syrians had applied for refugee status in Japan, but only seven received it. When they fled the country, they could only take a few personal belongings with them, making it difficult for them to prepare documents and other items that can prove they are refugees.

On April 4, an alleged chemical weapons airstrike took place in Syria. In response, the United States launched a missile strike on an army base of Syrian President Bashar Assad’s administration on April 7 (Japan time).

“I find it really sad that another tragedy has happened in my beloved homeland,” Nayef said.

“Syria is beautiful. I used to play with my daughter in a yard of a mosque. But the place we used to know was lost after bombings, and there’s no place left for me,” he added.

It’s been a little over a year since he began his solitary life, in which he prepares his own meals. Hoping to also work as a driver in Japan, he continues to apply for refugee status while aiming to acquire a license.Speech

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