Ahead of the UN Refugee Summit, refugees share their experiences, fears and hopes.
This week Islamic Relief is at the UN Refugee Summit, calling for states to welcome refugees, to support safe and sustainable livelihoods, and to treat them with the dignity they deserve.
BATOUL, 19, living in Lebanon: “My dream was to go to university and become a journalist. I had many dreams, like travelling the world and meeting new people. I’d like to learn about the struggles people face and help their message reach the world. But if reality is this horrible how can I dream? We got to Lebanon and had no one with us. We had no money. We had no idea where to begin. There is no hope of returning home – that’s what I feel. Even if I do go back, what am I going back to? I have nothing to go back to.”
UM OSAMA, from Hama: “She screamed a scream that made my heart ache. Then her body dropped dead in my hands. That is how I see Syria now. That’s our country that we used to live in. It was a horrible night. The military aircraft was above us, we heard noises of explosive barrels and rockets that were falling everywhere around us. I took my kids and went to an agricultural land near the outskirts of the village to search for a place where I could guarantee safety for my little children. As soon as we sat under one of the olive trees an aircraft bombed the place with cluster bombs. My little daughter died and my children and I were injured.”
NOOR, 33, in Qushtapa Camp, Iraq: “In Syria I was sewing for a living in a big shop with many other women. My eyes are too bad for that now. The problem started in 2013 when I arrived here. I don’t have any family members to help me so I have to work [stacking shelves in a supermarket]. I can’t get my medicine if I don’t have money. And I can’t see if I can’t get the medicine. I’m worried that my eyesight has become so bad that from now on I can’t work anymore. When my supply of medicine starts running low – if there are only two more tablets left – I get afraid of not being able to get more. When I look to the future I see Hell. Without assistance what can I do?”
HAZNA, 34, in Dara Shakran Camp, Iraq: “In Syria I wasn’t working. I was at home – a mother for the children. My husband was working as a labourer but if there’s no work we had a garden to grow food and live on this. We opened the shop in the first year after we arrived. My husband’s brother came here and gave me money and credit to open the shop. Three years later I’m still waiting to pay them back [a debt of $400]. Most of the women are saying, ‘Lucky you – you have our own shop’. But they are not seeing that I am tired from morning until midnight. I’m only thinking about my children’s future. The schools here are not good so that’s the only thing I’m scared of. Our hope is to go back to Syria tomorrow. Once we came to Kurdistan we thought that we would stay here for two to three months but it’s now been three years.”
ROKSAN, 28, in Basirma Camp, Iraq: “I tried to leave the refugee camp and asked for permission just to go to the hairdresser in a nearby village but they would not let any girl go out alone. All I wanted was to get a haircut. There was a woman working as a hairdresser outside the camp but inside the camp they started talking about her and now she’s not working any more. They talked about how she was going out alone and coming back alone. The men and the police were asking what is she going to do outside the camp? Is she going to work really? You know what I mean – I am thinking of bad things. I wanted to go to the dentist but my mother couldn’t come with me and I couldn’t go alone. It causes psychological pressure. I’m always thinking about it. There’s a border here and we cannot cross it alone, or even with friends. I’m always stressed out. We are under pressure and we have this stress all the time.”
HANNAN, 38, in Basirma Camp, Iraq: “Finding jobs here depends on whether you have friends or relatives to help you. I have 15 years’ experience in teaching but till now no employers have replied to me. I’ve applied to all the NGOs, giving them my CV, but I’ve seen that they’ll take another person who doesn’t have any experience or knowledge about the job. Because I don’t have the opportunity to teach, most of the time I feel angry, aggressive and nervous, having pressure because I can’t do what I’m supposed to do. The women can’t go out alone. I want to go out shopping or to the market or to the hospital and I feel like I’m in prison. I have to get permission to go anywhere. The difference between living here and living in Syria is the difference between the sky and the earth. I can’t tell you in words how different things are.”