„Is there chocolate where you come from? Are there houses?“
Alaa Muhrez talks about her experiences of arriving and everyday life in exile, about questions of identity and experiences of exclusion.
Arrival means security in its literal sense: that you’re not going to be killed for the color of your skin or your religion or sexual orientation. At the same arrival is the hope of a new beginning, a new life and the idea of new life is closely connected to the status of the person in exile. More often people in exile could begin a new life only if they are given some sort of legal status in their host societies.[…]
Education is essential to settle down. It is more important than the language because you can’t start a job or a life just with language. Many people can’t benefit from their education in the new country, especially those with basic jobs. Education is essential for a new beginning, perhaps the most important once a refugee is arrived (obviously, education should not be indoctrination). How productive a person could be in society depends on the quality of education they receive. Therefore, government should spend more on refugee education, both the state and refugees could only benefit in short and long terms. People in exile should be given the chance to learn, build new skills, not only for physical work but intellectual work, too. Refugees with degrees should be treated the same as people from developed countries – graduated from fancy universities – this will create more opportunities for refugees which in return will be beneficial for the economy in general.[…]
For me home is not a place in time and space but people and the sense of community. If I do not have anyone from where I came from then could I call it home? I can’t. Finding home is a stage of arrival when one is able to find the sense of community and belonging. When one makes friends and finds their family. And it is only possible if people in exile is not segregated from host communities.[…]
You start a new life from zero. Whatever you had, you lost. It’s almost like you’re a newborn baby: you don’t understand the language, the society, the culture, the laws. And as for babies, it takes time to learn all that. There are big expectations to live up to the standards of your new home – standards that are put up for you the moment you arrive. In most cases, people in exile go through more complicated bureaucratic work than locals. Imagine going to a new country where you don’t speak the language, you don’t understand the customs and you have to go through a procedure which most bureaucrats have very little understanding of – well good luck finding any success. Although, in most cases people receive professional help from NGOs but it’s never enough.[…]
Some spend years in exile and some decades. They build a new life from scratch, in many cases a new family. However, the question of whether one wants to return or not always remains there. In some cases it is a personal question which always hangs in their mind and in some cases it comes from the state or host community – do you want to return? – most exiles are so invested in the host country that the decision of return would be extremely irrational one. Returning just out of patriotism for your country, that is another thing. But if you think rationally that you spend – let’s say – 10 years in a new country in a new country to build a new life to learn the language you are invested in that culture, you are invested in that society then all of the sudden, you decide, ok, my country is safe, let’s go back. I don’t know how that would make sense for people, but I can understand that people would choose to go back out of love for their country. But if I think personally and rationally, I think it makes very little sense, once you are invested to that amount in the new culture / country, built a new life. I think you just reset and start again in your own country. I don’t think, that makes sense.[…]
People in exile mostly fled from wars and persecutions. Although, most feel the safety and security which is given by the host communities but they never forget what they went through. Subconsciously they never come over those experiences and horrors. There are hundreds of thousands of testaments from people in exile in 1930s and 1940s who fled genocide and war, and they would always have nightmares of wars. I believe, exiles only have nightmares, there is no place in their subconscious for “sweetdreams”.[…]
People need permanent settlement. Only there they can start to settle down and start a new life. Without that you’re still on the move, you’re unstable. People might be in camps for years, but they’re not arrived. Arrival is establishing a new life, settling down, it’s a place to live, a job that feeds you, having basic human rights, provide yourself with basic human necessities. The life of an exile is a constant pursue of better future. One merely lives in present, it always is about future. It’s not only because they want better future but systematically they are put in a situation where they have to always think about future. A good example could be that „they are here temporarily“.[…]
Ibrar Mirzai is 21 years old and was born in Afghanistan and grew up in Pakistan. As a Shiite Muslim, he was persecuted in Pakistan and decided to flee in 2016. His flight took him to Greece, Serbia and finally Hungary – each of these stops combined with several months of waiting for a possible onward journey. During his time in Serbia, he volunteered to help refugees at the Hungarian-Serbian border, raising awareness of the situation at the border with both international NGOs and the Hungarian government.
Ibrar Mirzai had to wait for his asylum request in Hungary alone for three months in a Hungarian camp on the Serbian border until his request was granted in 2017. Since then, he has been living in Hungary, catching up on his education and getting involved with NGOs. In August 2020, Ibrar Mirzai began a bachelor’s degree program at Bard College in Berlin.
In an online workshop organised by the Exile Museum Foundation and the We Refugees Archive in January 2021, refugees talked about their experiences of exile in Berlin and jointly developed an ABC of arriving.