With the ongoing war on ISIS in the Middle East forcing its citizens to leave the area in droves, the western world has been charged with the responsibility of playing humanitarians, different from the usual role of international police force. Leaving Americans unsure…
Who are these people forced to leave their homes and give up everything they have in the face of certain death? The media has labeled them refugees. Politicians have called them terrorists, dissidents whose values trump the possibility of assimilation. But before those labels had been placed upon their hanging heads they were, and still are human beings.
One such person is Hisen Al-Kurdi, a Kurd from the northern Syrian city of Raqaa. He left his home in 2015 in the early hours of the morning to escape his certain death. He didn’t want to leave what he called, “A good city, we were having good relations and good connections with other people there. Syrian, Armenian, Ashora, Kurdish and Arabs…you know good connections with other nationalities.” That changed the minute bombs started dropping from the sky, killing the citizens of Raqaa and other cities with a complete disregard for life.
Imagine walking out your front door and peering across the street to see your neighbors house demolished, body parts strewn across the now bloody streets. Now imagine this as your everyday reality, for years. That is but a brief glimpse into the horror that has become the average Syrians life with no end in sight.
“Everyone wants to save his place (home) but the explosions happened all the time. That made us very, very scared…sometimes when the explosions happened, we think that could be happening at our house. Believe me, we ran from the house to see houses gone and we asked…why?” -Hisen Al-Kurdi
Shortly after the initial outbreak of violence had swept across the land did local militias begin to emerge from the rubble. The #Peshmerga, a militant group of Kurds mostly from northeastern Syria and northwestern Iraq, had taken up arms to protect their own. Soon followed the Arabs who could not stand to see the Kurds take a position of power in the region. Sections of cities were carved out by men willing to fight and die for their cause, each with their own agenda and set of morals.
Hisen was a journalist before the region erupted into a state of fear and lawlessness. As any journalist worth reading makes sure to practice, Hisen was a seeker of truth and in his search he became a target of those who seek to repress it. Threats were made against him and his family, he could no longer do his job without the fear of losing his own life or even worse, the lives of the people he held most dear. It was time for him to leave Syria, for his safety and that of his families.
The trip had been planned for a few weeks before the fateful morning when his father woke him up and said, “The way is ready now”. Hisen couldn’t believe it, the time had come to leave everything he had ever know behind in search of what westerners would call a normal life. “I think it was 5 o’clock in the morning. The other people I was travelling with had already left to meet up with the escort so my father and I gathered my things and weaved in and out of neighborhoods, avoiding the main roads so we would not be seen” said Hisen when describing the morning he left home.
The 160 km journey from his home in Raqaa to the Iraqi border was a long and dangerous road. They used the cover of darkness and their knowledge of the local side streets to navigate the dangerous roadways to a small home just short of the border with Iraq. There host offered the travelers a bowl of plain macaroni as dinner, it would be the last bit of food they would receive until they breeched the shores of Greece a few days later. Hisen stressed the difficulty of the first border crossing he would encounter on his journey to safety, “You know, it was so difficult to cross it (border). Going up and down mountains…the whole time we were thinking we lost everything.”
Hisen was not out of the woods yet in terms of his safety as northern Iraq had not seen a day of peace since the U.S. led invasion of the country in 2003 and now that the American forces had essentially retreated, he was at the mercy of ISIS if caught trying to escape. There was hope on the other side though and it came in the form of the Peshmerga who single handedly beat back the monster that is ISIS in fierce battles, at least they beat them back enough for a relatively safe passage for others like Hisen.
He stayed in Iraq for 5 days while awaiting papers that would help him travel to Europe without the troubles most encountered when fleeing before securing such documents. On the 5th day, papers in hand, he bordered a bus for a 22 hr. ride to nearby Turkey. Another bus took him to the western port city of Izmir where he patiently awaited a dangerously overcrowded boat to Greece. Hisen and many of the other men put their safety aside to ensure that no woman or child be lost to the turbulent seas, “Everyone wanted to help someone if something happened there. It was dangerous, believe me when I say we forget our safety.”
Hisen would travel to 5 other countries before finding safety in the German industrial town of Schweinfurt, where old American Army bases have been converted to makeshift camps for the refugees.
Talking about the emotional impact of finally reaching their destination Hisen said, “We said, now we are safe, we are in safety now. All the people were happy and some cried. ”What they didn’t know is that although they are safe, they were not free.
Confined to camps enclosed by barbed wire fences and manned security checkpoints, the sense of freedom eluded them and still does to this day. The German government has stepped up to the plate taking in on average 100,000 new refuges a month but they may have dropped the ball in terms of preparedness. While food, shelter and a little bit of money are provided, little else in terms of creature comforts are available.
There are problems that are even harder to solve then the basic necessities and they appear in the form of two cultures with little understanding of each others way of life forced to interact with each other. “The Germans don’t know about the traditions of #Syrians and the Syrians don’t know the traditions of the Germans. There needs to be more talk about this” said Hisen.
The problem facing the west is how can we provide for these people but ask from them in exchange to give up, or at least scale down some of the cultural differences that many find objectionable to western civilization. One such issue is the differences in age that are deemed acceptable in the west versus some parts of the east. In the Middle East, it is normal for a man to have multiple wives, something not practiced in western society for some time. Even more troubling for westerners is the fact that the legal age for marriage in Syria is 14.
Hisen stated, “Back home it’s 14 but if you marry before 18 here, it’s illegal.” Families that have made the long journey are being torn apart by laws they didn’t know existed before their arrival, sometimes to the extent they maybe separated by hundreds of miles.
Other cultural problems like the woman’s right to work or better yet, the necessity of females in the workplace are a common source of misunderstanding amongst the refugees and their host nation. “In this country women must work but in my country, they should not work, they stay in the home” says Hisen. He fears the traditional Syrian family dynamic is being forced to adapt in the wake of their exile and fears a loss of their identity in this new world they find themselves in.
A need for purpose in life is a driving desire for many people and the refugees are no different. Hisen stressed that all of the refugees he’s encountered in Schweinfurt are searching for just that, a purpose. Now that the violence is thousands of miles behind them, time has become their enemy.
“One day soon I would like to finish my studies at university and find a good job, then maybe I can help my family come here so they can live out their last days in peace.” Said Hisen when asked about his plans for the future. With the ever-changing evolution in #refugee politics and state sanctioned regulations Hisen is unsure when he may get the chance to pursue his dreams.
The western world is under the gun when it comes to whether or not to let these refugees, better yet, these people into their lands. Giving in to the fear of the unknown more often then not leads to rash decisions with echoes of xenophobia, this is not a position the west should find itself in. People are in need, good people and to turn our backs on them now will stand out in history as one of the greatest instances of hypocritical policy making the modern world has ever seen. These people were given a choice to stay and die, or do as people have done throughout the ages when faced with the horrors of war, run. There is no shame in running. We get one life to live, let’s give them a chance to live theirs.
To See An Interview With Hisen Click Below:
By: Steve Gauthier @njscout82