I slept under the escalator, surrounded by plastic barriers – the PA announcements would jerk me awake

I was working as the marketing manager for an insurance company in Abu Dhabi when civil war broke out in Syria, the country of my birth. I’d left five years earlier, aged 25, but military service in Syria is mandatory, and the outbreak of war meant I would be expected to return. But I didn’t want any role in the killing machine.

When I refused to join the army, the Syrian embassy wouldn’t renew my passport. Without it, I couldn’t extend my work visa, so I was out of a job. For the next few years, I was forced to live under the radar – remaining in the United Arab Emirates illegally. I sold my belongings and worked off-grid when I could, sleeping in public gardens or stairwells. At the end of 2016, I was finally taken in by the police. After two months in an immigration detention jail, I was deported to Malaysia.

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