‘Thanks, but the truth is I hate being a refugee’: a young Syrian introduces Oxfam’s new briefing

October 7, 2015

     By Duncan Green     


The arrival of tens of thousands of Syrians at Europe’s borders in recent weeks has been a sharp reminder of the

Cousins Sahir 6, and Tariq, 4, from Deraa, in Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan

Cousins Sahir 6, and Tariq, 4, from Deraa, in Zaatari refugee camp, Jordan

tragedy engulfing the people of Syria. Today, Oxfam publishes its latest briefing on the country’s continuing conflict. Dima Salam (not her real name), a young Syrian refugee now working for Oxfam in the UK, introduces the new paper.

Today Oxfam has published a fair shares analysis of the international community’s response to Syria. Oxfam is calling for donor countries to reverse the shortfall in funds for humanitarian relief and for countries to take in more refugees. This is important and exactly what I would hope Oxfam to be calling for, but let me tell you how it feels when it’s your country that is falling apart.

In December last year, I got promoted! Well, it’s not as exciting as it sounds. It’s not the type of promotion you hear about in normal life, but for me it was a life-changing one. I was an asylum seeker and, thankfully, I am now a refugee.

Some would argue that I am one of the luckiest refugees. To some extent, I agree. I flew to the UK to do my masters on a student visa like so many other young people around the world wanting to prosper and widen their choices. The idea of seeking asylum was not even on the radar. I came to the UK with the goal of making my family proud and returning home to share the success.

But while I was enjoying my UK student life, things were getting much worse back home. When I left Syria at the end of 2013, the country was in a dreadful situation – people were being killed, kidnapped and forced out of their homes. Yet, I wanted to go back. I hoped that things would get better.

As the situation for my family got worse, it made me keener to return. I wanted to be close to my parents and my brothers, to share their suffering. Being torn from one’s own family is hurtful as it is, but being far away and incapable of offering any help is the worst kind of suffering. My father had a different view: “if you want to help, stay there and be safe”. Really dad? On my own? A refugee and on my own?

I’ve always been fond of Britain and always wished to live here, albeit for a short time. I’ve always believed that this country has a lot to offer. And now, I have it all. I have everything I’ve been dreaming of and a bit more. The only thing I hadn’t foreseen is that I would have all of that, and not be happy about it.

Yes, I am grateful for what I’ve been given. Life is so much nicer here. Everything you’d think I would want is at the tips of my fingers: food, clothes, and a safe home to return to at night. I do have a better life, much better than it could ever have been in Syria right now.

The Damascene Sword ,symbolising Syria's cultural and historical heritage, painted by a friend of the author to portray peace, serenity and a hope of return.

The Damascene Sword, symbolising Syria’s cultural and historical heritage, painted by a friend of the author to portray peace, serenity and a hope of return.

So many factors have helped me to be here – obviously the British government’s generosity in granting me asylum. But the truth is I hate being a refugee. I hate the feeling that I didn’t really choose to be here. That’s why I try my best to avoid showing anyone my documents stamped with the word “refugee” as my status in this country.

I feel selfish for not appreciating what I have, and I urgently call for more to be done for other refugees: Help Syrians! Bring more asylum seekers to Europe! Provide better lives for them!

But sometimes I pause, and think: what if they hate being refugees too? I am sure they do but they’re like me, they don’t have the luxury of choice. They just want to live.

As a refugee, every day I see the compassion of ordinary people that I meet. I really hope for this compassion to be translated into more action that their governments might take. I hope Europe will offer refuge to more people. But I know painfully well that the violence and bloodshed inside my own country must come to an end, and that the world could unite more to help bring that about. If action doesn’t happen now, in this critical moment, it never will. And those people fleeing Syria will become dusty pieces of a forgotten past.

The world should take the difficult but necessary steps to end the war. It has to stop contributing to killing and displacing the Syrian people. An obvious step towards achieving this is for the world to stop supporting the entry of any arms to Syria – be it for the regime, for the opposition, or for any of the many other groups. Only then will all factions find themselves willing to sit together, listen to each other and negotiate solutions.

Put more simply, when the world intends to value the lives and souls of Syrian humans more than it values the endless foreign interests in the Syrian civil war, only then will Syrians stop becoming victims of killing, false imprisonment, hunger, destruction, and displacement.

I would like to use this space to thank the UK for what it has given me and what it is still giving me. I am grateful for being able to think out loud and praise and criticise – something I couldn’t do back home. I want to thank the UK for its £1 billion in aid for Syrian refugees, for the Syrian refugees it has accepted and for the 20,000 more it has pledged to resettle.

The importance of all that cannot be underestimated. However, the UK and the world must not lose sight of the root problem that is pushing people to flee their country – and of course not forgetting those who remain behind. There is a grave, urgent task for the whole world to come together as a united front and look at things through the same lens: the lens that shows the simple reality of human beings wanting to live a decent life without war, and without being forced to flee their homes.

More reflections from Maya Mailer on the launch here, and here’s a table on from the Fair Shares paper – an awful lot of red. Overall the Syria response has less than half the money needed ($8.9bn) 

Syria fair shares analysis

October 7, 2015
Duncan Green