Roundtable with Refugees

Interviewing: Domenica Ghidei from Eritrea
Answering: Shirien Saib from Iraq
Gaby Jahchan from Lebanon
Syoum from Eritrea

1. What are the positive experiences that you have had as a refugee?

Shirien :To live in freedom without being afraid of saying or thinking something wrong. I get to know a new culture.

Gaby : I felt relaxed. I was working in my own country with refugees but only since I am a refugee myself I understand really what it means to feel like a refugee.

Syoum : I could integrate easily. I learned to learn from my mistakes. My student work helps me, it is a good community. My time here gives me possibilities when I go back to Eritrea.

2. What specific difficulties have you faced as a refugee?

Syoum : Loneliness, my girlfriend in Eritrea.

Gaby : People treat me from their point of view: in my college nobody thought I would be a Christian. People wonder that I eat with knife and fork. There is a totally wrong picture of refugees people have. I don't need their charity.

Shirien : I feel guilt living here safe and knowing my people at home are in great trouble. But I was a child when my parents took me with them, I am standing between two cultures. There is always a feeling of sadness inside me. People have a certain picture of one who is a refugee, but I want to be accepted as a human being! [...]

3. Is there something specific that you think others must know about refugees?

Gaby : I cannot express what it feels like as a refugee. I worked in Beirut with refugees from Afghanistan, Russia, Eritrea and I saw myself as an expert. Coming to Britain I felt the first time real as a refugee. Refugees do no want charity, they want us to understand them. They have lost everything at home, but they cannot lose their pride.

Syoum : The way the refugees are "welcomed" in the different countries by the police is often very inhuman. I wish that the refugees can stay.

Shirien : The general picture people have from refugees is "oh, they are human

4. Is there one thing that you as never want to hear again?

Gaby : Difference.

Syoum : That anybody excuses racial discrimination, for example in South Africa.

Shirien : When people ask me "Did you really have to go away, or was it just because of economical differences?".

[World Student Christian Federation, "You were yourselves aliens in Egypt", seminar, Lisbon, 1990 - EYF-supported project]

Ruciza, 16, from Serbia, living in Germany for four years

Why did you come to Germany?
- Because there was no work and no money in Yugoslavia.

Are your parents with you?
- Yes, my mother and father and my brothers and sisters.

You've told me that you once all had stones thrown at you in your village and that the situation there is very difficult. Is that right?
- Yes, that's right. Every night they threw stones at us and we had no peace. In that village it was not possible to buy anything; there was not enough money. That's why we had to come to Germany.

Where do you live now in Germany?
- In Essen.

- In a home for refugees.

How do you live there?
- It is not so good. Many people live there. It is loud. You can't sleep well. The air is not so good.

Why not?
- It stinks. Rubbish is left on the floor. The toilets are not clean.

You told me that you are here with your parents. Do you have your own room?
- No, we have only one room. We must cook and sleep in it. That is all. We don't have any more. Only one room.

Do you go to school?
- Yes, I go to school. But I have difficulties getting up in the morning. The children make so much noise. We don't have any peace. It is too loud in the home.

Can you learn?
- It doesn't work out so well, so I always go to a friend's. I learn together with her. She is Turkish.

For some time now skinheads and other fascists have been attacking foreigners. How do you see the situation?
- I find it very bad. I often go to visit my sister. She doesn't live in a home. I am afraid to travel on my own. I always want someone to accompany me.

Have skinheads attacked your home?
- No, they have not done that yet[...] When I was shopping with my friends, some skinheads taunted us and shouted things like "Foreigners out!". We ran home quickly.

Would you like to stay in Germany?
- Yes I would like to stay in Germany.

Have you got a resident's permit ["Aufenthaltsgenehmigung"]?
- I don't have a resident's permit.

What have you got then?
- I am in the middle of the asylum application procedure, so I have a temporary permit ["Duldung"].

So you could be expelled from Germany?
- I'm not so sure about it. Perhaps they can deport us. I had four girlfriends who were deported to Yugoslavia. Now I'm alone in the home. I feel alone. [...] We all took part in JOC (Young Christian Workers) activities.

So you're a member of JOC?
- Yes, I'm in the theatre group and once a week we organise a girl's café.

How do you feel in JOC?
- It is good. I have fun. There are also Germans, not only foreigners. I think that's great.

[Interview from: JOC-Emigrante, Essen-Altendorf, 1992]

Suggestions for follow up
You may like to use an activity to explore some of the issues that were raised in these stories. If so, then there are two role-plays about being a refugee in Compass. "Can I come in" explores the reasons refugees have for fleeing their home. The second, "The language barrier" explores some of the difficulties refugees face when applying for asylum.

Alternatively, you may like to do a collective story-telling activity about Ali, a Moroccan boy, who lives in Madrid. See "Antonio and Ali", in the all different all equal education pack.

To find out more about the reasons why people become refugees and the consequences, take a look at Chapter One of the Education Pack, in particular the section on "Migrants, immigrants and refugees".

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