Being a refugee is constant strangeness

Published 21.09.2017 01:53
Updated 21.09.2017 01:55
A Rohingya refugee woman waits for aid with her grandson inside their temporary shelter at a camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Sept. 19.
A Rohingya refugee woman waits for aid with her grandson inside their temporary shelter at a camp in Cox's Bazar, Bangladesh, Sept. 19.

Today, being a refugee means being the new ‘other,' seen as the 21st century's burden that deserves facing inhumane treatments, diseases and sorrows in a terrible camp far away from home

It has always been a fact that women and children, and especially women with infants, are the demographic most susceptible to violence during wars. In the face of an escalating crisis, women become victims of violence and rape, while witnessing the slaughter of their entire families, destruction of their homes, neighborhoods and even whole cities. Even escaping the scene of destruction alone is a trauma, forcing women to become refugees, facing the unknown while trying to ensure the survival of their children.

Terror groups like Daesh are naturally not bound by internationally accepted human rights norms nor are they party to rules that govern supra-national bodies. However, the last decade's moral deterioration has made civilians legitimate targets of recognized governments. Economic and political motivations for war have once again been replaced by religious, sectarian and ethnic hatred. Not only terrorist groups but also states are engaged in the wholesale destruction of communities they perceive as the other. Myanmar openly attacks the Rohingya people, while Israel targets the Gazans. These days, civilians in Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan and Syria are not only victimized by terrorist groups but also by their governments.

When war comes to the neighborhood, the first thing to go is state services like healthcare and security, before the arrival of bombs, malnutrition and disease. Men die or decide to stay to fight, while women are forced to flee to protect their children, yet this is not enough to protect them from confronting horrific experiences such as detentions or rape.

Most do not even have the luxury to mourn their dead loved ones or even face the deep psychological scars resulting from what they went through. The trauma of losing everything -their properties, families and selves - will never leave them. Many of them will start a new life with serious disadvantages, including lack of language skills or professional qualifications and most importantly lack of compassion.

War does not only kill human beings, but also human relations. After going through hell, how can a refugee woman trust anyone ever again? How can people who have undergone such traumas connect in a crowded refugee camp? How can people rebuild their lives in a place where there is no room for privacy?

People of all ages, backgrounds, religions and nations are placed in the same camp. And there are visitors who come and go all the time. These celebrities or officials spend their "15 minutes of sorrow" in a camp, invading the private spheres of refugees. Just imagine someone you don't know nosing their way into your bedroom, telling you how you must feel, crying with you in front of cameras, patronizing you about what you need to do while acting all understanding. They spend the minimum time acceptable before going back to their secure world to tell their friends and families about how compassionate they are.I met a Jewish woman in one of the camps in Turkey's southern border. She is a Syrian Jew, who speaks Arabic and veils herself similar to Muslim women. Oh sister, I said, the whole world is against you. The world is not ready for that kind of cultural diversity of a Jew dressing like us, sharing same culture even though this has been your reality for centuries.

The world is trying to kill everything mixed and good that your ancestors and mine preserved and brought to the present time. She refused to have her photo taken, fearing the Assad regime will see it and then take revenge on her family back home. She is not alone in feeling this way. Many of her fellow Syrians in the camp share her sentiments.

War does not kill people only, but also memories.

How can one survive without memories? It is the family home, the language, the laughter of a friend, traditional dances on special occasions and many sounds and smells that make a community. It is these smells and sounds that make one feel safe. It takes only one bomb blast to silence it all. And never again can you feel safe.

Refugees need much more than just food and shelter. Being a refugee means anxiety, fear, social isolation, frustration and depression, and all of these are disorders that are made worse if the conditions they find themselves in are not very good.

They need so much more to survive with the stress they have to deal with. Sixty-minute therapies cannot heal such women and children. Societies, we, the people, need to heal them through our own actions. We need to truly speak and listen to them. We need to care for them and support them when they are in need; make them feel secure; help them deal with all the traumas. In short, we need to be their neighbors and friends.

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