The suffering of one nation, anywhere in the world, is the suffering of all us. If we allow the suffering of any people, then what is the fate of our planet?
We have to be aware that war is nothing else than the end of all humanity. What is happening now in Syria is the pain of the whole earth.
We are just like you. We have children, homes, and memories, but all of these things we have lost. Do you think that we are still alive? Newspapers often deal with us as if we are only numbers; we are not numbers, and you must know that we really need you to become alive again.
We escape from injustice and tragedy and attempt to find a dignified life. We take the greatest risks, even to die at sea – death by lifeboat.
With us, we carry all our baggage — our intellectual heritage, our culture, our language, our abused childhoods, our fears — wishing to find a safe life under the protection of law and declarations of human rights. And in this process, we find a new personality full of contradictions; in our new atmosphere, these contradictions only deepen.
But there is no other option. We can’t go back: that means failure. And yet in our new home, we cannot entirely fit in. We, the Syrian people, are intelligent, but we lived under conditions in which our minds and our humanity were eroded. Now, having reached safety, we may feel we are clever; however, we also feel divided inside ourselves. This is what it means to survive. And it is here that conflict starts between what we were and what we want to be.
Sometimes, it seems too late to prevent an internal dilemma. Some try to find roots in exile, drilling, forcing new roots to graft in a foreign soil. They eat new food, they speak a new language; fervently, they adopt the new culture’s preconceptions and ideas. But they do not truly communicate with others. To lose one’s identity is the most difficult part of the struggle.
The city of the virtuous does not exist in Europe. And so, we strive to create—as quickly as we can—an environment similar to the old, within the new orbit. But to do this is to be separate from the new society and to try to live out the past. A society made up of such people is a mosaic; its roots dispersed.
It is very dangerous when we live together but still cannot build a bridge between our differences. The new generation from these families will feel that they don’t belong: the roots only go as deep as their minds.
The big mistake is trying to force others to assimilate. Nothing is more futile. To accept refugees is to embark on a process of learning—learning of a culture, how people who are different from you live, what they have suffered.
Each one of us is a completely different person. We can’t force others to obey new laws and cultural norms if we don’t teach them why they need to respect them. We don’t know what the laws mean. We don’t know how people here live and still feel love and happiness. They seem to work like ants. We do not have rules or behaviors like that.
The people in my country have fled. They are always afraid; the norm there is to feel afraid. The normal things that you think we know, we don’t yet know. If you want to build a bridge, give us space to take a step toward each other. Force cannot achieve a peaceful outcome. The solution depends on the country which received the refugees and immigrants. We should help each other to understand the new situation, to find a middle point between different cultures.
I do not like the term Refugee- we are not refugees, we are human beings like you. We did not leave our homes, our memories, our childhoods, our language, and our culture because we want to take your lives away from you. We left because we were forced by war.
It is shocking how human beings can kill one another so impersonally and dispassionately. It’s unimaginable. We do not need to say and hear “sorry”; we need to do something.
We, humans, are a set of contradictions. We have this ugliness in us, but although we try to hide it, we cannot. At the same time, we are full of both empathy and impotence. I am passionate; I want to help. But sometimes there is nothing I can do.
If we keep looking at the suffering of humans and feel nothing, we will lose our humanity. To most people, death starts to matter only if it touches someone you know. Instead, we must protect ourselves by protecting others. We all have the right to live in peace.
We try to convey our pain to you, not to make you suffer, for that would be harmful to us, but to show you how this pain is not necessary – we really don’t need to fight. Only love will show us the way to live in peace.
Art image credit: Ibrahim Brimo and Asaad Ferzat
Kholoud Charaf is a Syrian poet, art critic and current ICORN resident in Krakow, Poland. She won 2018 “Ibn Battuta ” prize.