What does the term refugee mean to you?
To be deprived of everything. We are unable to travel freely; some countries refuse to accept the documents we carry. They simply do not acknowledge our existence. In Iraq, I am not permitted to own a house or a private car even until this day. I am also not permitted to advance in any job I get, assuming that any of the international organizations agree to hire me. I applied to obtain the Iraqi citizenship because I am the wife of an Iraqi and the mother of two Iraqi children, but for six years I did not get any result because they claim I do not have the right to obtain citizenship. I repeat: to be a refugee simply means to live in a large prison. It definitely means to be deprived of everything. This is what really angers me.
Is flight from poverty less legitimate than flight from war or political oppression?
It is the contrary. Poverty is more dangerous than war or even political oppression. Poverty means the absence of life, to live in constant humiliation. To escape from it and to better one’s situation is a very legitimate right.
And what about flight as a result of environmental problems?
Environmental problems are dangerous, but, in my opinion, they are not enough of a reason to request asylum, unless these problems lead to an epidemic that cannot be contained or treated.
When does one cease to be a refugee?
When their country has a government that is fully capable of proper governance and is not subjected to occupation or terrorism, in addition to having a strong economy that enables its citizens to attain relatively equal living opportunities. Only then, a person would not be a refugee. But if there is no choice but to be a refugee, then the right conditions should be created to facilitate the refugee’s complete integration into the refugee community, by providing them with all the rights enjoyed by the original citizens. Whereas holding on to their traditions, cultural inheritance and original community is a personal matter and shall remain as such.
Is there a natural right to asylum?
Of course, because a political refugee, alongside his/her family, is liable to the risks of assassination. They live in the fright of this moment at all times, therefore, the only escape is to seek asylum in a country that provides him/her and his/her family with the proper protection.
If yes: is this right unconditional, or can it be forfeited?
The right of asylum is definitely conditional because the country of refuge might unavoidably endure consequences for accepting this asylum. As for the possibility to forfeit the right of asylum for these people, it is impossible because we are talking about people whose lives are threatened for political reasons and motivations.
Do you think that the number of refugees a society can absorb is limited?
If yes: where do you draw the line, and why?
Of course, any country should take its capacity to withstand their expenses into consideration, when receiving refugees. . Moreover, it should study the extent of how this would affect its economy and therefore its original citizens, especially since at this point we do not live under ordinary circumstances for asylum. Some countries, such as Germany, were forced to accept very large numbers of Syrian and Iraqi immigrants who had escaped from the hell of terrorism in their countries.
As a result, Germany faced several problems. However, its stance as a country was remarkable because it saved thousands of humans, and its government deserves praise for the humanitarian approach it followed.
Are there privileged refugees in your country, i.e. refugees that are more welcome than others? If yes: why?
There is none. Iraq is a country whose leaders do not understand the methods through which they would be capable to deal with refugees, nor do they understand the meaning of ‘asylum’. Moreover, it does not adhere to any of the agreements pertaining to the rights of refugees. They deal with us as if we were a temporary problem that could be disposed of at some point. Right now we are forced to adhere to more unfair laws that ensure we do not settle down. You can only imagine the kind of life we live, especially us Palestinians; we endure social discrimination, in addition to terrorism, dwindling economy and much more. There is also targeting by militias, whether factional or governmental, as well as random arrests and the inability to reach those who have been arrested.
Do refugees in your country receive fair treatment?
Perhaps, I cannot give a conclusive answer because I do not socialize with everybody and I am not aware of the specifics in how they are treated. However, I do not t believe that we are. We all suffer from being treated unfairly and therefore, several actions must be taken. I personally notice this when I get in touch with the Iraqi Ministry of Interior’s Directorate of Residence; I see people of different nationalities, and just like me, they jog between offices and are forced to wait long hours humiliatingly, simply because the employee is not there or the Director-General has guests, in addition to other excuses. I do not remember ever going to that directorate and finishing what I had to do quickly, unless I just had a question about a certain case.
We are civilized. However, we are forced to deal with some security personnel that treats us rudely and provokingly, while others stand in your way intentionally to score bribes.
If this is what fair treatment means, then yes, we are definitely being fairly treated in this regard.
Would cuts in the social security system in your country be acceptable to you if they were to facilitate the absorption of more refugees?
I am a refugee as I previously mentioned. As a result, my answer will be biased. However, if we look at it neutrally, apart from my on-going suffering as a refugee, I have to tell everybody without exception: You have to help refugees. Look at them from a humanitarian perspective, and treat them accordingly. Do what you can to save their lives. Embracing those who had been oppressed, violated and were unable to live dignified lives in their homelands will eventually be of benefit to you. That much is certain - because you will be taking one step ahead of terrorism that will use refugees as a weapon against you in the future, taking advantage of their sadness, shortcomings and fragility.
What are the requirements for successful integration?
- on the part of the refugees?
He must respect the country’s laws; that is essential. Moreover, he must understand his rights and duties, and if they were unable to or did not want to return to their original homeland and instead live in the country of refuge, then he must study all the means that would prepare him and his family to quickly integrate into the community without creating differences or barriers, especially when it comes to religion. He must understand that he lives in a community that honors diversity in all things, and therefore must deal with life as such.
- on the part of the citizens of the host country?
Not to be condescending. A lot of refugees suffer from this problem, not to mention recent events and the terrorism accusations directed at Muslims. They have unfortunately created aggression and intolerance towards them. They make up the largest percentage of refugees in the world. Governments in countries of refuge must take this seriously, because they would incur the biggest losses if the problem escalates further.
Do you know any refugees personally?
Of course. I know many, including my brother who has been living in Canada for six years, but I have not seen him all this time except through social media. My sister and her husband live in the USA. Before then, they were in the UK. They have been refugees for nearly 10 years, not to mention many of my friends who had to escape the many forms of the violent hell in Iraq.
Do you actively support any refugees?
This question is not clear. If the question is whether I support the activity of any refugee, then the answer is an absolute yes. There are many friends who have cooperated to implement humanitarian projects inside Iraq. I am a founding member of the Iraqi Observatory For Press Freedoms, which is the official partner for Reporters Without Borders. As much as we can, we try to invest in the asylums of various friends in many countries to expand the organization’s area of activity by relying on them as well as their ideas and figuring out the/a way to do it. We have somewhat succeeded in maintaining their commitment to the organization.
How will the refugee situation in your country develop
a) over the next two years?
When you ask me this question, I do not know which country to choose for this answer; Iraq, where I have lived as a refugee for the past 40 years, or Palestine, the citizenship which I still hold until this day.
If it was the first, which is Iraq, then the issue of asylum is a highly complex one. We are talking about a country that is unstable, and I do not think it will have stability in the long-run. As a result, we will continue to witness the migration of many of its people. As for refugees living there, they desperately want to leave and live in safe and luxurious countries, at least in reference to Palestinian refugees. We actively tried to pressure the UNHCR into resettling us, but they declined unfortunately, despite being aware of the injustice, oppression and killing that we face.
b) over the next two decades?
It is the same. The issue of Iraq is complex and is related to external political agendas. There are constant and continuous attempts to change Iraq’s demographic as a part of the preparations to divide the country, despite the presence of an apparent political disapproval and an actual dismissal from the people. Nowadays, those two are not as relevant as much as international plans that aim to achieve the division, and are heading toward success as evident on the ground in Iraq. Based on this, I say the problem of refugees will only get worse in Iraq.
Can you imagine a world without refugees?
No, I cannot imagine that. As long as there are weak governments, then there will be atrocities, terrorism and its implications, sectarianism and its implications, poverty, unemployment and generally-lackluster services. As long as there are countries looking to occupy other countries for a variety of motives.
Have you or your family ever been refugee?
I have been a refugee since I was 2 years old and even up until now. I am currently 40 years old. My father was forced to seek asylum in Iraq after his military unit was transferred from the Palestinian army* to Iraq. Since then, my eldest sister, my mother - who carries an Egyptian citizenship - and I have been refugees in Iraq.
*army = Palestinian Liberation Front
My father served the Palestinian Liberation Front, which was stationed in Sinai, Egypt. After their disorganization, it was forbidden to his “Battalion” to return to Palestine. They could choose between different countries, such as Algeria, Libya or Iraq. My father chose Iraq (approx. 1976).
Do you think you will ever be a one?
Despite being a refugee, I do think about seeking asylum in a different, safer country because I am thinking of my children’s future. Like I said, this is not just a private opinion; all refugees in Iraq definitely share this sentiment.
- If yes: why?
This question requires volumes of writing as an answer, but these headlines will suffice: terrorism, sectarianism, corruption, poverty, unemployment, being targeted with direct killing or random detainments, constant marginalization, not having the right to advance in our jobs if we manage to get one, not having the right to own anything, not even a house or a car, etc… We, ladies and gentlemen, live suspended lives, we live in a large prison over which we have no power.
- How do you prepare yourself?
Extensive preparations are required if I wanted to emigrate legally. First of all, I would have to save up a large amount of money to be able to live in a country where I would be able to request asylum.
- To which country would you take refuge to?
In my case, that country would be Turkey because it would be the perfect way to achieve that, or Amman where I would have to live for an unidentified period of time that could last years until I receive a notice of approval. After that, I would travel to the asylum station which could be the USA or Canada assuming that I have relatives there. It is a complicated matter because I have children that need to receive education and live well, away from any pressure. Perhaps this is what worries me most: how I could give my children what they need after I take this step?
How much “home” do you need?*
I do not need much, a secure home, a small house, daily food and my children – if that could become a reality, I would be very happy and could live a life without sorrows.
*This question was taken from Max Frisch’s questionnaire concerning “heimat”.