Chinese Malaysian, American Literature at Osaka University, Japan.
“I was sleeping in a place where rats were running everywhere. The living condition there was so disgusting and awful that I could not believe my life would have become like this. In Lebanon, I worked in a restaurant about thirteen hours a day only for five dollars. After four months, I decided to return to Syria because I could not stand this anymore.”
After returning to Syria, Iboo found out that his cousin had also escaped the city. What came after this news was the heartbreaking news in which his little cousin was shot to death by a sniper during the war. Unable to take in this fact, Iboo cried like a baby and blamed himself on his little cousin’s death by wondering: “why should I stay life then?”
Nevertheless, the instinct to live and the family responsibility urged Iboo to stay alive. In order to stay alive under the circumstance that he was wanted by both political parties in Syria, he fled to Turkey in the winter in 2014. The path to enter the Turkey border was particularly challenging because the border policemen were incredibly violent in dealing with refugees. As Iboo claimed, “They don’t care about refugees at all. I saw someone was hit, kicked and stepped by the policemen on their faces until they died.” After a few months, when Iboo found a job and a flat, he asked his family to come over to Turkey. Of course, the scene of watching his family cross the border was unforgettable. As Ibu recalled, “I will never forget the look of my family when they walked out from the border: such a long journey to cross the border and all they had was some plastics bags with them.” “If all this had never happened,” Iboo lamented, “together with my parents, my three sisters and three brothers, my family would have had a normal and happy life in Syria. The costs that we have to pay for this political chaos, these wars, are way too much. And in fact, many of us are innocent.”
The life in Ankara, the capital of the Republic of Turkey, was indeed, very tough. As Ibu claimed, “I worked like an animal for one year in a chicken farm, seeing dead chicken bodies and smelling the chemical substances that had injected into them.” Unable to bear this kind of slave-like life any longer, one day, Iboo took a bus to Istanbul and looked a job based on his luck. However, after sleeping on the cold streets for several days, still, Iboo was unable to get any job. Feeling homeless and depressed, Iboo gave up his plan and took a bus back to Ankara. Surprisingly, on the bus when he spoke to a person sat next to him about his situation, he was offered a job by that kind person. “This time, I was not treated like a slave. It was a hard job, that I was taught to make equipment for chicken farms in a town called Bursa, but people at there were nice to me,” Iboo recalled. Although the long hours of working and the long distance between Bursa and Ankara were really tiring, Iboo devoted himself to both work and family. “Almost all of my salary was given to pay the rent for my family. I restricted my monthly expenses to no more than thirty dollars a month,” Iboo said.
During the six months working in Bursa, an idea of going to Europe kept appearing in Iboo’s mind. After he settled his family down in an awful flat in Istanbul, Iboo decided to travel to Greece. At that time, a one-way boat trip from Turkey to Greece costed nine-hundred euro, which was unbelievable expensive. But there was nothing Iboo can do to make a change. Luckily, at this time, a German lady who had been chatting online with Iboo for several months, decided to help him up by lending him money. The trip to Greece was extremely dangerous and chaotic. As Iboo recalled,
“thousands of refugees were put into boats and before reaching the port, we have to pass through the police boats, whereby the policemen would try to destroy the engine and hit us. I was very lucky because the driver of our boat was really good in running away from the police boats and because there was another refugee boat coming right behind us, the policemen switched their target from us to the latter one.”
So, paying nine-hundred euro for a boat trip that might possibly kill yourself—I wonder if there can be anything ethical about any of this. Also, letting Iboo together with hundreds and thousands of people who had lost their homes and families to bear the name of “refugees” seems to a little bit harsh. As refugees are often projected by media as negative subjects without really considering the fact that refugees are not criminal but victims of wars and political chaos.
Bearing the hashtag of “refugee,” Iboo arrived in Dusseldorf, Germany without a plan. He was taught German language by the same German lady who had assisted him before found himself a job in a IT company. Today, it’s been two years since Iboo started his new life in Germany. He has become fluent in not only speaking German language but also English through self-learning. Living in a share house with seven other residents, Iboo never forget to perform his role as a good neighbor and furthermore, a good citizen. The only hope Iboo has for now is to get his working visa renewed so that he can visit his family in Istanbul. He misses his family who have taught him to be grateful and be faithful; he misses his hometown, where he was raised as a decent being. He misses everything that he had lost in these years and therefore he becomes obsessed with “forgetting” them. But Iboo, what I want to tell you is that there’s no way to forget them because those heartbreaking memories and lived experiences are the elements of your strengths and powers. They are parts of you and only by embracing them you can eventually relief yourself. So, instead of repressing them, you should speak about them or write about them in order to let them out and let them go. And I am very grateful that you shared with me about your story. I hope this article that I wrote will help you to soften your tough windshield and further open up the gate inside you to go through the path of remembering/recovering.
According to Oxford English Dictionary Online, the word “refugee” means “a person who has been forced to leave their country in order to escape war, persecution, or natural disaster.” What can we understand here is that refugees are not criminals but victims of war or any other kinds of disaster. As Lisa Campbell, an American who ran a refugee camp in Italy, claims in BBC News on 8 December 2017 that
“they are refugee because they want the same things in life that you and I want. We had engineers, lawyers, teachers, musicians, artists, police officers—people from all walks of life. They were just like you and me.”
Drawing on Campbell’s description, we realize that what we really understand about people who are called “refugee” is almost nothing. We simply give those victims a negative connotation without really understanding them. This is an unethical behavior and thus it has to be changed. Imagine if you were Iboo, and you had to experience all those inhuman incidences that he had confronted in those years, you will then come to understand what it means to be a refugee. So, what it means to be a refugee? I would say: to be (a) human.
Text © Lay Sion Ng
Lay’s Previous Contribution To Edge Of Humanity Magazine
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