Imagine You’re a Refugee

Imagine you’re a refugee. What might that look like?

For starters, imagine your hometown–the place your family has lived for generations–has been destroyed. Imagine your government–when faced with opposition demands–has deployed your national military against your fellow citizens, shooting those it saw as a threat to its hold on power. Imagine that opposition groups took to arms too, and that a violent civil war erupted. Imagine that after four years of fighting, over 250,000 of your fellow citizens have died in the conflict–most of them ordinary people–and that over four million people have fled your small country. Imagine that you’re trapped in this civil war that involves well over thirty different organizations fighting in seven main belligerent groups. Imagine these belligerents have been using artillery, poison gas, torture, and murder against one another. Then, imagine an invasion by a new belligerent–a barbaric fundamentalist movement which employs murder, rape, and pillage indiscriminately, including the beheading of innocent captives.

Imagine your neighbourhood looks like this:

Aleppo, 2013. Photo via Reuters:
Aleppo, 2013. Photo via Reuters:

Imagine you and your family members no longer have jobs, incomes, secure food supply, medical care, schools, or a supply chain to provide many other necessities of life.

Imagine some of your best friends, coworkers, and relatives have been killed in the civil war.

Imagine you fear for your children’s lives … every day and every night.

Imagine you are psychologically traumatized, emotionally overwhelmed, and intellectually confused, unable to access reliable information about what is going on around you. Rumours are everywhere.

Imagine you hear there are countries far away, but reachable, and that you’ve heard they are willing to take you in.

What would you do? What would you risk?

Perhaps you feel you have no choice. You have to flee the chaos, violent, and life-threatening war around you. Where do you go? How do you get there?

You don’t want to leave your home, but you have to make a choice soon. Another winter is only a few months away. That will only make it harder to survive. You don’t want your children to be that cold again.

Imagine you’ve heard a place called Germany will take you in. You’ve never been there–never been anywhere near there. You have no idea what it might be like, other than a few pictures. Or maybe you do have an idea, because your cousin’s friend’s family moved there. People you met once a decade a go. You’ve heard they’re willing to help too.

So you set out. You pack up whatever you can reasonably carry–a few clothes, a few household items, a few pictures or other small mementos, some cash (maybe a few hundred dollars, or even a thousand), your cell phone, some food and water, and your best pair of shoes, because you have to start walking.

How far is it? You’re not sure, or maybe you’d rather not know. Actually, you need to know. It’s about 2700 km. That doesn’t get you to this place called Germany, where you want to go, but it does get you to a place you’ve heard might give you help.


That’s a long walk: ten hours a day, for 52 days.

That’s hard to imagine.

Maybe it’s easier to imagine on a different map.


Imagine that walk. Except you don’t know anyone along the way. And you don’t speak the same languages as about half of the people you encounter. And they don’t want to help you. They don’t want you there.

Where do you sleep? Where are there toilets? Where do you get food and water? How do you clean your body and your clothes? You have five, ten, or maybe twenty dollars a day with which to make this journey. That’s for you and your family.

Imagine you arrive in a place called Hungary. Police are there to meet you. The police you are used to back in your hometown beat people and arrest people without justification. Sometimes they kill their “enemies.” Other police you’ve met along the way have attacked you with clubs.

Here in this new place, the police herd you into compounds: empty buildings and fenced in spaces. Some other people in uniform give you some bottles of water and a few sandwiches. But you also see the crowds of locals. They’re looking hostile–not friendly at all. You hear a few of them shouting angrily at you. Other refugees have heard the government here wishes you would go away.

But they won’t let you go either. Their rules say that you have to register yourself as a refugee here in Hungary. You don’t understand the paperwork, but you’ve heard this means you won’t be able to go on to Germany. (Note: Germany is still over 600 km and a couple of mountain ranges away.)

How will you feel? I imagine you will feel traumatized, rejected, exhausted, filthy, hopeless, abandoned, confused, and angry.

Because you’re human … like anyone else. It’s just that you’ve been placed in a situation beyond your capacity … beyond anyone’s capacity.

Oh, and don’t forget. The people who don’t want you are filming your reactions to your containment and judging you for them. And “news” organizations will post these film clips on social media sites, where they’re shared as truth.

They’ll say you’re savages, barbarians, a third world invasion, a pathology … not really human.


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