The shop-owner

You call me a racist. You say I discriminate. You say I don’t appreciate what these people have been through. What a load of nonsense, to say it politely.

This little village has always struggled, financially, politically and socially. It is not easy to build a business in this place. We survive from the earnings we make during the summer months, when the tourists are here. This year, most tourists avoid our town. Instead of careless, little-dressed, Europeans who are only under spending on sunscreen, our streets are filled with poor, frustrated dark strangers accompanied by covered women and a flock of bare-foot children. How are they providing income for me? Why am I a heartless racist when I complain about my livelihood going under because of the stream of refugees in our village?

Just because I want my own situation to improve doesn’t mean I am a bad person. When these people first arrived here we all helped them. I handed out free bottles of water from my shop. My wife sorted through all our clothing and dropped three bags of pants, shorts, shirts, shoes and sweaters off at the camp. My sons are both first aid volunteers and spend their nights assisting new arrivals as their little rubber boats made it to our shores. We are not bad people. We helped. But it has been more than a year now and no one is helping us, despite your many promises. It is easy to call me heartless from the comfortable earnings of your steady job with one of those fancy international organisations that have since landed here. It’s easy for you to preach generosity when your job only exists because of the refugees. Let’s face it: if this migration problem would be solved you would be unemployed!

I have to put my kids through college in a country already balancing on bankruptcy. Why does the burden fall on us? And why am I a bad person for calling you on it?

These people don’t even want to be here. They want to move on. They want to get to Germany, Denmark, the UK, you name it. Well, get in line buddy! My sons are both applying for jobs abroad all the time. Neither of them will take over my shop when I retire because it is barely providing a profit.

You tell me these people are poor, frustrated with their hopeless situation and desperate for change. Well, so am I. Will you help me too? No! And why not? Because I am not a refugee. I am European. So who is discriminating now?

 

 

 

  • Fictional rant based on true events and speeches.

The migrant

Growing up I dreamed of having my own house. A house with a garden. I would have a beautiful wife and sweet children. Daughters. They would do good in school and I would buy them pink bikes which they could ride around the garden.

It was a foolish dream. As soon as I was old enough to understand just how foolish the dream had been I decided to leave this country as soon as I could. When I was 14 I started working and every month I saved some money for this journey. Last summer my best friend Zirak told me about the borders to Europe. They had been opened for the people coming from the Middle East, the people looking for a better place, the people like me and Zirak. We packed our things and left two days later. My father was proud. My mother was worried. My sister called me a fool and my fiancé called me coward. But I went. Because I was going to make my life in Europe. I would go to Germany and work. Make money. Build my own house. Live in freedom, peace, safety and wealth.  Because all of that is possible in Germany. There is no poverty there. They will give me money. I would learn the language and I would finish university there. I would make enough money to send something to my mother every month and she would not worry anymore.

I stepped on that boat believing my life would change. Poverty, violence, hunger and the iron shackles of a religious that was not my own would be behind me. The feeling of the waves on the open sea represented the freedom my parents had never felt. Something new. Something so new I feared it like I had never feared anything in my life. I cried like my little sister when we finally saw the shores of the first European Islands in the dark distance. Zirak and I stepped on that shore believing we had made it. Europe. Here there was freedom. Here there was opportunity. Here we would make something of ourselves.

But none of that happened. I am a prisoner. Again. The view from the barb-wired fences of this camp shows me that I wasn’t wrong: there is freedom, and money, and opportunity here. Just not for me. Not for me and the several thousand other people who arrived here the same way I did. We have no money, no ways to defend ourselves from those who steal our food, and we are forced again to live by the rules of other that make no sense to us.

I lie awake every night, hoping to wake up.

It was just another foolish dream.

 

Names are fictional. Story is a combination of true events and accounts.

The mother

 

The street is full and people are walking me by like I am not there. In the first days I thought they didn’t see me. I thought they were busy, in a hurry, on the phone, but they are not. They are not seeing me on purpose. They intent to avoid me. Mohamad is walking up to them, raising his hand to them, begging them for anything they can spare. But they avoid him.

The language, the food, the clothes, the houses, everything is different here. When Fariq told me we were leaving Syria I objected. The war was still far from us and the children were too young to travel that distance. Besides, neither of us had ever crossed the border before. But Fariq insisted and we left.

I was 16 when my father choose Fariq for me, and he has been a good husband. I gave him four healthy children and he provided for us and kept us safe. He does not spend money carelessly; he does not lie and he honours his family and his religion. He is firm with the children and sets them a good example. In turn I respect and obey him.

His cousin got him a job in construction here, but he barely made enough money to feed himself, let alone me and the children. When he got injured no one helped him. The hospital turned him away. I went to an office his cousin knew about – a group of foreigners who sometimes gave money to Syrians – but no one spoke my language. When a stranger translated for me it seemed they wanted papers from the doctor before they gave me money. But the hospital had turned us away!

The children were hungry. My husband was in pain. When Fariq told me to bring Leila and Mohamad to the street and beg for money I objected. It was too dangerous. I pleaded with him, cried, begged, but Fariq insisted and we went.

Now Leila is finally asleep in my arms. She seems to get smaller every day, even her cries get weaker. I worry for her, and for Mohamad, but we need the money foreigners give him.

He comes to me. I see he is tired, I see he is hungry, he wants to go home. I tell him to go back to the street. To the cars. To the foreigners who ignore us. My son sighs, cries, complains but I insist and he goes.

 

 

The names are fiction. The story is a combination of true events.

the start of the story

The aid worker –

Though I have always dreamed of this aid-worker-always-on the-run life, I never quite pictured it like this…

It is strange to run around between meetings in the small touristy streets of this town. Crowds of German, Dutch, Danish and English tourists are passing me by. While I am careful to stay in the shadow they are enjoying every bit of the strong, bright sunlight. Apparently they don’t care that they are as white as (or – if possible – whiter than) me and will be a lovely shade of red by the evening. They are buying the traditional souvenirs: bracelets, key-rings and t-shirts, while I do my daily shopping: food, water and phone credit. They stroll through the narrow markets in their shorts and fanny packs while I try to pass them without having my backpack hit them in the face. We are both too busy to notice the young mother sitting in street holding up her hand and speaking to us in a foreign language.

When I get a coffee around eleven, the tourists are just finishing their breakfast. They sit at the cafes of their hotels enjoying a cocktail while I exit the hotel at the end of my meeting. On my way up to the remote refugee camp they pass my by on their rented scooters and open jeeps. When I go home at the end of the day, they start going into town for dinner, drinks and clubs. And early in the morning, when I go running, the last visitors of the party are making their unsteady way home. We share this beautiful island but our experiences are completely different. I think the situation is uncomfortable manoeuvring for both of us, while we are both equally needed here. Them even more than me… Probably the strangest context I have worked in so far.

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