Published in The Independent on 31st August 2015 here.
A Palestinian-Syrian refugee from Yarmouk has become the latest viral sensation to hit the Internet. Abdul, a single father of two, was photographed with his daughter slung over his shoulder, selling biros in the streets of Beirut. An activist utilized the magic of the Internet to find him and within just three hours thousands of dollars were raised. On the face of it, such outpourings of compassion demonstrate the collective power of the Internet – of humans helping each other out.
But stories like Abdul’s are not uncommon. His plight is echoed in millions of people across the region and across the world. In Lebanon alone, Syrian refugees make up 1.2 million of a roughly 4.5 million population. Indeed Lebanon has more refugees per capita than any other nation in the world (hear that, Europe?). Lebanon has no ‘formal’ refugee camps, and beggars and street children are a common phenomenon. In Jordan, the Zaatari refugee camp houses over 80,000 Syrian refugees with the camp rapidly becoming a permanent settlement. In fact, one in five Syrians are now refugees according to the UN. All these numbers represent individual lives – lives we will never hear of nor see. What about those displaced people who are systematically ignored, marginalized and unheard?
21st April, 2015
Published in The Independent here
Last winter my cousin died on a migrant ship in the Mediterranean Sea. Amjad was 26 years old. My family were ethnically cleansed from Palestine in 1948, after which they settled in Damascus. Since 2011 they have been embroiled in a war not of their making. Food, water, heating, security and hope are becoming luxuries, scarcer by the day.
Meanwhile, I can buy mangoes and coconuts in December, I attend a top university, and my idea of a problem is when ‘Orange is the New Black’ won’t load on Netflix. My cousin and I are no different – we have the same genetic make-up, speak the same language and follow the same religion. And yet my maroon British passport gives me both immunity and freedom, whereas he perished fleeing a bloodthirsty civil war. Borders do not and should not mean anything: it is simply by chance that I am here and they are there. Where is the justice in that?
I miss home. Perpetually. I scroll through my twitter home page, with journalists and analysts sharing articulate insights into the politics on the ground. The terror and dominance of ISIS, the tensions in Jerusalem, the simmering chaos in Baghdad: I watch the images of war paint my screen daily as winter sets over Britain.
I went to a bonfire last night and lit my first firework, it reminded me of when I was 11 in Baghdad, I was on a Ferris wheel in a theme park and I saw a firework fly into the sky and I remember thinking ‘how great! Even in times of war they still have fireworks’ only this one didn’t go off. It continued to travel through the sky, arching high. Then it fell, there was a moment of calm, everyone held their breath in the stagnant air. Then the ground shook and my ears hurt. People screamed, my uncle drove on the pavement. We got home, ate watermelon and laughed about it.
First let me start by saying that I am sorry for your loss. Sincerely. The agony of losing a son, let alone losing one so publicly and in such savage circumstances, is the worst thing a parent can ever do and I wish it on no man. I watched the coverage and, like the rest of the world, I was rightly disgusted.
The slaughter of your son was gruesome, but a big part of why the world has seen it is because he is an American and I do not resent that, I’ve long since realised that a man’s passport puts a diplomatic price on his value. When I was 12 in 2005, we were trapped on the border between Iraq and Jordan and bombs, bullets and fear fell like rain on the cars around the crossing. We would have died if the American troops hadn’t saved us. They gave us food, water and medical care in their compound. All because we were British. The circumstances surrounding the death of your son were extraordinary. However, the nauseating reality of his death has, unfortunately, become ordinary. Deaths are not new to the region.