Syrian refugee's guitar opens doors to new life in Belgium

ZUTENDAAL, Belgium (Reuters) - Basil Khalil was far from home when he arrived in Belgium as a refugee having fled the war in Syria in 2012, lived in Egypt and Turkey and crossed the Mediterranean but his guitar has given him friendship and a sense of belonging.

The former music teacher played guitar on the streets of Istanbul and in muddy migrant camps of Serbia, where he sought to cheer up those around him with his songs.

In Belgium he got refugee status and it was music that overcame language barriers and helped him make friends such as Jean Davidts, who heard him play in a Belgian migrant camp and invited him to stay with him and his wife for a year.

Khalil now lives with his family in the Belgian province of Limburg, where he has a job in a tourist resort’s cafeteria.

“Life here is better and we are now socially accepted in our community,” Khalil said. His wife is studying for a business degree in the town of Hasselt while his children are enrolled in the local school.

Through his friend, Khalil joined an Irish folk band which meets regularly to perform songs in Davidts’ basement.

“He is a fantastic musician. We only need to bring up a song and he immediately knows all the chords and he is on his way,” said one of the group members, Richard Glockemann.

Khalil also still practices Syrian music including his own and in 2016 took part in a project called Refugees for Refugees.

Reporting by Natalie Rice; Editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek and Matthew Mpoke Bigg