Some reality on refugee camps
In the video call, Nasim looks quite stressed. He has just been involved in a confrontation with one of the security guards of the camp, who was harassing refugees. Nasim had tried to stand up for them, but getting involved in other people’s fights is something you shouldn’t do in camps. Lesson number one: don’t get involved in any fight. Lesson number two: every man for himself, for you might get sent to another camp or go to jail and be deported soon after. Nasim intended to report the situation to the IOM office (International Organisation for Migration), but they advised him not to report anything. He is better off staying silent, they say. – By Sabine Wassenberg, philosopher
Born into an Afghan family, Nasim comes from Iran. Having studied to become a translator from English to Farsi, two and a half years ago he decided to come to Europe to be safe and besides, here he’d get the chance to get more advanced in his life. He’s got big dreams, one day he’ll be a writer. When he arrived in Europe, he was first stuck in Greece for ten months, then his journey led him to Serbia for a while. He has now been in Bosnia for more than a year, waiting to be able to get on with his life. In this video call, I’m meeting Nasim for the first time. We are online together with about ten people. In the text promoting this Walk of Shame EU online event, Nasim introduces himself as ‘an inhabitant of Planet Earth’. Being a philosopher myself, I love this kind of talk; it brings me into a slightly dissociated mode of wonder, reminding me: I am spending a lifetime on a planet, the one we call Earth, and I am here with other specimen of this species, humans.
Nasim describes how his life is and how he has forgotten about the quality of life he used to enjoy. His standards have lowered now: ‘You should see pictures of the bathrooms and toilets we share’, he says. ‘I learn too much’, he says. Especially because of living together with people from so many cultural backgrounds. He realizes that his mindset and the ones of his Afghani and Iranian friends from home are different from the ones of the people he gets to know in the camp. He learns about their cultures. He also learns how to cook, something he never did back home. And he learns how racist people can be. Coming from Iran, where it used to matter that he was from Afghanistan, Nasim feels here it actually doesn’t matter where you come from: ‘We’re all human’. It shouldn’t matter, anyway. Refugees in the camps are all more or less in the same boat. They suffer not only from the insecurity of their life plans falling apart, but also from humiliation, metaphorically expressed in the back-to-basic bathrooms they share. Not clean, nor new; no lavender smell inviting them to have a nice hot bath once in a while. No homey feeling. For grown-ups who are not seeking the adventure of camping at all, adults who had their lives all built up with a house, career and a family, going this back to basics is an abasement. The feeling of humiliation extends much further than the washing facilities. It is present in every aspect of their lives. Many of the migrants stuck in camps are planning to go on the Game to get out of this stand still. Trying to find a way out, taking life back into their own hands, creating a better future, they take a huge leap of faith going for a long walk to another country where they hope to find better prospects. From Bosnia all the way to Italy, mostly on foot. Going to Game was for many the only hopeful point of light on the horizon, apart from the endless waiting for their case to be processed. But now there is bad news. Italy is pushing back refugees at the border, meaning refugees will just be deported back where they came from. Our video call group had already been receiving photos from Nasim, Kashmiri. and another refugee Adil, all in different camps in Bosnia, of bloody faces and broken legs. People returning to camp having been beaten up by border police. A few days ago, I was sent a film taken by a mobile phone, of men crying from panic right after they’d been molested and sent on their way back to where they came from. Fortunately Amnesty International is making a case out of this violation of human rights, as we can read in an article one of them sent us. This ‘border brutality’, as they call the torture, and the financial situation behind it is currently investigated and is being called a ‘EU-cover up’. Incredible fear among them is legitimate. There’s danger lurking in all corners of the future. And as difficult it is to distinguish truth from conspiracies, gossip or fake news for everybody, obviously this will not be easy for people in the camps either. For instance, one of the refugees replies to my question, why he doesn’t just return to his family in Pakistan, tells me that he knows for a fact he will be imprisoned on arrival and he thinks that in his home country nowadays people get killed in hospitals somehow. The Covid19-diagnose would be the cover up. His own uncle got sick and died in one day in the hospital. Is this proving his theory? Nobody knows. But it surely affects him with fear. I can only imagine how depressed and tense they all get, being stuck in a camp with less and less fortunate futures. Tension is building up. Rikko, Walk of Shame activist, tells us how NGOs are hesitant to report about all the cases of stabbing. In this short period I’ve been involved in the Walk of Shame project, one refugee has been telling us about fights happening almost every day in the camp, his phone got stolen three times and he has been sexually harassed by a guy from camp. This all happened in a few weeks for only one person. We learn that this kind of stuff is happening in all camps in Bosnia. Migrants do not trust each other and are behaving violently and hostile. Even in our video call Nasim gets disrupted twice, by an angry sounding man who lost the power plug for his mobile phone and somehow puts the blame on Nasim. We can’t hear what they say, but the tone is definitely not nice at all. in Europe Even though they’re all in the same boat, these migrants are also just human and are therefore struggling with the same discrimination we find outside of camps everywhere in the world. Apparently it is quite a human tendency to blame another nationality for problems. In our conference call this sounds like: ‘The guys from that nationality, they are the ones who are selling hashish, roaming on the streets, abusing people, drinking alcohol.’ Whether or not this can be proven, a judgement like this is a fallacy of overgeneration, resulting in discrimination and prejudice and ruins the chance for human connection. Nasim is pointing out, all of this results in Europeans having a wrong impression of migrants in general. ‘They think we’re all criminals.’ He said about countries which are hosting refugees. He explains he believes the government actually wants this to happen. ‘Putting this amount of different nationalities together is not good. Some camps are almost empty while others are too full.’ Negative news on these immigrants would make it easier for governments to send them away. The masses would be grateful. Not only refugees among each other but also the security in camps are not able to stand above all these negative judgements. That’s how Nasim got into his confrontation with the guy from security who was harassing some refugees. Apparently the security guy had just started to dislike him or his kind. But Nasim was strongly advised to stay silent. In the meantime there’s not much information spreading. Media is refugee tired. What else is new? Covid19 provides a great excuse to not report about the situation in camps. But also the refugees themselves do not really raise their voices. They lay low. In the past few weeks I’ve noticed that while telling the stories of refugees, we’ve had to be careful. Storytelling could be a matter of life or death. Either someone’s past is haunting her, or needs to hide in Europe, a good reason to stay anonymous. Others fear their immigration procedure might be harmed if they go public. And again others fear how their self expression online might make other people inside the camp envious, which could create enemies. Not many voices are heard. They stay silent. As a painful metaphorical illustration of this, the refugee Adil tells us how in his camp music is forbidden. ‘But we need something to get rid of all the tension, to distract ourselves from the reality of our lives. Music is fuel to our soul. We could forget our problems by playing football, by dancing, playing music. But all this is not allowed in our camp.’ Even if great NGOs are doing wonderful things to humanitize the environment in camps, as we saw in the story on Tawab, to me it now all feels quite hopeless. But it’s not up to me, as one of the participants in the video call, to give up hope just like that. Sjouke senses this negative spiral and steers the narrative of the conversation into this direction: ‘How do you maintain hope?’ Nasim answers: ‘Hope is actually a really small thing that you have to always keep to yourself. Hope is what you need to get up in the morning. ‘Anyone without hope is a dead body in my idea,’ he says. ‘I learned how to be strong, how to not give up because I see myself all alone in the middle of nowhere. Lipa is not a place somebody wants to live. Nobody comes here to see what is going on – only recently two government guys visited the camp to check Covid19 containers.’ Nasim has been talking to people from the Walk of Shame team for quite a while now, spreading his views on what it’s like to be a refugee. Little by little, information will spread. More and more, people will know and realise what’s going on. The tiniest steps are taken, but hey – didn’t all changes start with only a handful of people? Nasim is a searcher who likes to study more and more. He’s smart and could be good at anything, if only he would be allowed in Europe to continue his development to flourish as a human being. He says about the Universe we all live in, the Universe is a System and we are all part of this perfection. Every one of us plays a role in it and every individual has to do it in the best way possible. He also says that the Universe itself could be one massive atom, looking at the similarity that the solar system has with a single atom’s structure. Nasim also believes that God not only has a connection with the prophets, but with every individual and creature. It is a vision, an energy inside all creatures. It’s an inspiration coming to you when needed. We all live on this Planet Earth, in this massive galaxy which is embedded inside God knows what kind of eternity surrounding us, and Nasim and I both find joy in wondering about it all. Instead of being yet another stranger in some deep dark corner in the jungle of Bosnia, Nasim is now certainly a fellow human being to me. But even with all the other people I’ve not met, I should not need a video call to feel all people are fellow humans.This goes for all people I might have problems respecting. Individuals struggling with hope and hate, who fight others, who steal phones or rape, politicians trying to get elected at all cost and even soldiers guarding an imaginary border, are all fellow human beings. Those borders, the barbwire ones and the invisible borders made out of paperwork, borders of camps, between nations and around Europe, are all illusionary creations dividing people from one and the same kind, the human kind. Nasim reminds us, once more, we are all humans, inhabiting Earth. We tend to forget, so let’s break the silence and spread information. — Update 1: We just received news that Nasim is going to the Game one of these days. It will be his seventh try. We all pray he will reach Italy safely and hope we’ll meet in a better place someday. Update 2: Nasim made it to Italy! He is safe and now he can restart his life! We can’t believe it. We are all so happy for him! Still, there are many people left, stuck and lost in the Jungle of refugee camps. Update 3: Nasim is now safe in Germany in the process of his application.
This article was published on the Walk of Shame website