Alaa Muhrez: Refugee is Only a Word

On an unusually bright morning in Berlin I was sitting alone, sipping a cup of coffee and hesitating over a loud noise. This word came to my mind. I thought about many questions and why the meaning of this term has changed between some people here.

Word definition of the word refugee

In the Arabic language, the definition of the word refugee is: a person who flees from his country to another country to escape political persecution, injustice or famine. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees defines a refugee as: a person who is outside the country of citizenship or habitual residence. And this because of a justified fear of being persecuted for racism, religion, nationalism, membership of a particular social group or political opinion. And because of this fear he cannot or will not stay.


Between this theoretical and realistic definition, I find myself besieged by many names and strange questions about appearance and stereotypes. I don’t know where they come from and I was not aware of them before. Their presence in an open country in many cultures and nationalities, like Germany, surprises me.

In fact, other meanings completely distort the meaning. Sometimes the contemporary definition is not without racism and rejection and sometimes with acceptance and compassion. The mere mention of this word can reduce the skills and experience of the person who has to stand under this name and classification.

The role of the refugee

Here I stand on stage as a refugee, a theater in which every refugee plays his role in his life, in this life. He tries to portray himself as a refugee. But this time in public, to prove that I am a refugee in the true sense of the word. But this charade must be repeated again and again for each person I see for the first time. I have to list my curriculum vitae so that I do not erase everything I have achieved by the title “refugee”.


With further sips of a cup of coffee and many ideas related to the word asylum in my head, I sighed with regret. Uh … I have to start over in this beautiful new country to go back a lot. I have tried very hard to escape the war and its curse. I resisted what was going on in my country not to return to this point, but I have returned…!

A refugee.

A refugee, a refugee…….

A typical question

One day they asked me: “Do you know chocolate?” or “Do you have refrigerators in your country?” We won’t talk about the extent of their intelligence. These are some of the many typical questions that are asked and that fall when you are in the role of a refugee.

Here is the last sip of coffee. I was talking to myself: “Finish your cup and go to work, and you’re going to be on your own on your way to your future.” Refugee is just a word that some repeat with negative and positive feelings. Politicians who support our cause discuss it. And the opponents in international parliaments prove it for themselves.

The real impact and its true meaning remains the lifelong journey of each refugee.

Refugees as numbers

They try to prove the opposite of what is said. I see that we have become numbers. Those who still live on us swear themselves into groups. And every European or Arab country has a certain number.

They treat us as numbers. And this despite the fact that the Syrian refugee was able to integrate into all the societies he came to, at all levels, culturally, intellectually and professionally, at record speed. In this way he was able to prove his worth, even though he was only present in these societies for a few months or a few years. This, in turn, indicates that the Syrian belongs to an ancient civilization that stretches back thousands of years. He invented the first alphabet in history (the Ugarit alphabet), the capital of the Syrian coast. He spread science and knowledge and noble human values.


Wherever we are, we now need to develop sustainably and continuously in terms of culture, epistemology, science and technology. In this way we can creatively and actively participate in the development of this or that country and its prosperity. In this way the Syrian can remain active and influential for centuries and years to come.

Alaa Muhrez comes from Homs, Syria, where she studied economics. She lives with her husband and children in Berlin.

In her article for kohero magazine, Alaa explores the stereotypical meanings of the word “refugee” in German society and the consequences for refugees living in Germany: “The mere mention of this word can reduce the abilities and experience of the person who has to stand under this name and classification.” According to her, fugitives were treated as numbers and worked daily to prove that on the one hand they were real fugitives – that is, that they had a right to exist in Germany – and on the other hand, that they were more than just fugitives whose identity is far too diverse to be reduced to their flight history alone.

Muhrez, Alaa: Flüchtling ist nur ein Wort, published in: kohero Magazine.

Translation by Minor Kontor.