New York has given me that Refuge
In this film, refugee South Asian LGBTQ+ activist Barbara Khan talks about her migration from Pakistan and her life in New York as a trans woman.
Let’s start with the reason you left Syria. Or, if you want, you can also talk about your migration route more broadly.
So, we left Syria following two detentions. And then, following my third detention attempt, I escaped. Basically, I tried to stay in the country hoping things would work out. But afterwards, the government took my little brother, so I decided to take him and leave. So, my decision to leave was at the beginning, mostly just to make sure I’m… we’re in a safer environment.
It wasn’t really a decision to completely leave the country. That was in July 2011. But, by September 2011 it was clear that there’s a kind of like a new route back. So that’s when we decided to, you know at least leave on the…medium term. Basically we stayed in the region for some time like settled a little bit and then figure out when we can go back. So, we left Syria to Lebanon and then to Egypt… But I didn’t really settle anywhere. I was just traveling in the region following wherever the [Syrian] opposition activity was and I came to the US and then when it came to the US I guess feeling like home here in the US made me make the decision. And, of course, following what was happening on the ground, I realized there’s no opportunity for me to go back. That’s when I decided to stay.
And which city did you arrive to? Did you really settle into?
I arrived in Atlanta, I stayed for few months in Syracuse cause I was doing a program there, but Washington was the place I first settled in. When I wasn’t in a hotel room, basically.
And would you have stayed in Syria if you had the choice?
At the time, yes. 100%.
And what was sort of your decision making process like?
I mean, it was a combination of couple of factors. So, one was whether I was unsafe or not. And two, whether my activities would affect the safety of my family or not. Three, I guess to a lesser extent, is whether I was able to continue my kind of normal life. So, basically we’re able to go back to school, go back to work and all of that. […] When I was in Syria, I think coming to the US and realizing, in a sense, not realizing what I’m missing. But in a way, after prison you really appreciate what freedom really means. In the region there was no such a thing as kind of like being free, being yourself. And I felt…I had the feeling that I can be that in the US … like, I know what real freedom really means. And anything that became another factor later in my decision on where to stay and whether to go back or not.
If you tell me today: Would you go back to Syria now if you can go back safely? I would tell you like that I need to think about it.
Sami11name changed is a political activist and refugee from Syria who has been living in the US since 2011. After two detentions, Sami decided to leave Syria and fled first to Lebanon and Egypt with his family. Since September 2011, Sami has been living in Washington, D.C. in the USA.
Interview conducted by the We Refugees Archive team with Sami in the summer of 2022. The interview has been edited for length and clarity. The interviewee wished to remain anonymous, therefore we have changed his name.