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Being a Refugee

What It Feels Like to Flee Your Home

What It Feels Like to Flee Your Home
An estimated 9 million Syrians have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in March 2011.
A Syrian refugee, who fled from the violence in Syria, stands outside a tent as his children look on, at the Domiz refugee camp in the northern Iraqi of province Dohuk July 3, 2013. Picture taken July 3, 2013. REUTERS/Ahmad Mousa (IRAQ - Tags: CONFLICT CIVIL UNREST SOCIETY IMMIGRATION)

You’re 29 years old with a wife, two children and a job. You have enough money, and can afford a few nice things, and you live in a small house in the city.

Suddenly the political situation in your country changes and a few months later, soldiers are gathered in front of your house and in front of your neighbors’ houses. They say that if you don’t fight for them, they will shoot you. Your neighbor refuses and gets shot. That’s it.

You see one of the soldiers trying to rape your wife. Somehow you get rid of the soldiers and spend the night deep in thought. Suddenly you hear an explosion. Your house no longer has a living room. You run outside and see that the whole street is destroyed. Nothing is left standing.
You take your family back into the house, and then you run to your parents’ house. It is no longer there, nor are your parents. You look around and find an arm with your Mother’s ring on its finger. You can’t find any other sign of your parents.

“But asylum seekers have so many luxury goods! Smartphones and designer clothes!”

 ************

You immediately forget it. You rush home, and tell your wife to get the children dressed. You grab a small bag, because anything bigger will be impossible to carry for a long time, and in it you pack essentials. What do you take? You will probably never see your home country again. Not your family, not your neighbors, your workmates… But how can you stay in contact?

You hastily throw your smartphone and the charger in the bag, along with the few clothes, some bread and your small daughter’s favorite teddy.

“They can easily afford to get away. They aren’t poor!”

**************

Because you could see the emergency coming, you have already scraped all your money together. You managed to save some money because of your well paid job. The smuggler in your neighborhood charges 5,000 euros per person.

You have 15,000 euros. With a bit of luck, you’ll all be able to go. If not, you will have to let your wife go. You love her and pray that the smugglers will take you all. By now you are totally wiped out and have nothing else. Just your family and the bag. The journey to the border takes two weeks on foot.

You are very hungry as you’ve barely eaten for the last week. You are weak, as is your wife. But at least the children are okay although they don’t stop crying.

Half the time you have to carry your younger daughter. She is only 21 months old. A further 2 weeks and you arrive at the sea.

In the middle of the night you’re loaded onto a ship with other refugees. You are lucky: your whole family can travel. The ship is so full that it threatens to capsize. You pray that you don’t drown. The people around you are crying and screaming. A few small children have died of thirst. The smugglers threw them overboard.

Your wife sits, vacantly, in a corner. She hasn’t had anything to drink for 2 days. When the coast is in sight, you are loaded onto small boats. Your wife and the younger child are on one boat, you and your older child on another.

You are warned to stay silent so that nobody knows you’re there. Your older daughter understands. But your younger one in the other boat doesn’t. She doesn’t stop crying. The other refugees are getting nervous. They demand that your wife keeps the child quiet. She doesn’t manage it.

One of the men grabs your daughter, rips her away from your wife and throws her overboard. You jump in after her, but you can’t find her again. Never …

In 3 months, she would have turned 2 years old. You don’t know how you, your wife and your older daughter would manage to get to the country that allows you in.

Everything is foggy. Your wife hasn’t spoken a word since your daughter died. Your older daughter hasn’t let go of her sister’s teddy and is totally apathetic. But you have to keep going. You are just about to arrive at the emergency accommodation. It is 10:00 pm. A man whose language you don’t understand takes you to a hall with camp beds. There are 500 beds all very close together.

In the hall, it’s very crowded and noisy. You try to collect your mind and strength to understand what the people there want from you. But you can barely stand up. You nearly wish that they had shot you. Instead, you unpack your meager possessions; two items of clothing each and your smartphone. Then you spend your first night in a safe country. The next morning you’re given some clothes. Among the donated clothes are even branded ‘label’ clothes and a toy for your daughter. You are given 140 euros for the whole month.

“They’re safe here. Therefore they should be happy!”

**************

Outside in the yard, dressed in your new clothes, you hold your smartphone high in the air and hope to have some reception. You need to know if anyone from your city is still alive. Then a ‘concerned citizen’ comes by and abuses you. You don’t know why. You don’t understand “Go back to your own country!” You understand some things like “smartphone” and “handed everything on a plate.” Somebody translates it for you.

And now tell me how you feel and what you own? The answer to both parts of that is “Nothing.”


About Abdelrahman Dameen

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