Thursday, February 11, 2016

The Reluctant Refugee: Trauma, Manners, and Morale

A friend, who in addition to her considerable duties as a Gymnasium teacher runs a B&B, offered to take in two refugees, and the first has arrived. She speaks no Arabic and he speaks no German, French, or English, the languages she tried. She showed the middle-aged man up to her best bedroom, thinking he'd be relieved to have a nice view and plenty of space. He shook his head, and after a number of gestures she understood that the room did not meet his expectations. He wanted a TV. She took him to the other bedroom, which is much smaller, but does include a TV. He frowned. Too small. 
If you're already either laughing or feeling outraged, don't. And don't expect people with terrible experiences to remember their manners. Maybe he'll calm down. I'll see her in a day or two, and if he does, I'll update the post. UPDATE: He speaks German after all, at least enough to communicate basic needs, but seems to have been unable to speak it on the day he arrived. He locks his room door whenever he leaves his room, even if only for a few moments, like to go to the bathroom. But the refrigerator door gets left open. The garden gate, too, and even the front door . .  . classic signs of trauma: "I am in charge around here!" This man is desperate to feel that he can control his world. He was a professional, much sought after in his field, a lucrative one, back in Syria. Here, he has no chance. A middle-aged guy losing his profession loses his identity. 
I'm surprised he's only leaving doors open.  He can't seem to stop doing this, even though he does try. 
 I'm surprised he's managing to put together his own meals.  The door should be open to him, to his loved ones. The German door. The European door. And his life, his belongings, his world, should be safe. So his own private domain is carefully locked.
When my husband and I had dinner with friends involved in helping refugees, I heard similar tales: a man who had been living in a nice apartment at the expense of the local Catholic church disappeared in the middle of the night, leaving a note explaining he had become terribly homesick and had to return to his country of origin which is not, fortunately, at war--it's just that there's no work or possibility of getting an education there. He didn't pay the small amount he was supposed to pay for gas and electricity. 
Another refugee had dinner at our house, sat silently, sadly, and toward the end of the evening relaxed a bit, and in the car--my husband was driving him back to where he's staying with friends--the man said he really desperately needed a desk. He was studying and had no desk. My husband turned the car around, since we have several unused desks in the basement. The man looked the desks over gravely and decided none of them would do. He would maybe go to Ikea.
If I had lost everything, if I had seen death, if I had braved oceans, I don't think I'd be particularly reasonable. When I think how my lack of sleep when my children were young turned me into a meanie, and I try to multiply that crankiness by the experiences of Syrian and other refugees, I begin to understand. People need to make choices, and to believe that they are in charge of their lives. Most of the time, I believe that I'm in charge of mine, but of course that illusion is the thing that makes me relatively sane. Anything could happen, any day. I am lucky that I haven't faced such utter loss so far.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Something is Rotten in the State of Denmark: Robbing from Refugees

According to The New York Times,

A law approved by the Danish legislators allows immigration authorities to seize valuable items, including jewelry and cash, to offset the cost of resettling them.

Move over, Nazis. I thought the Danes were the good guys. I thought most Scandinavian countries were the good guys in the Syrian resettlement saga. Sweden, until recently, did what the Statue of Liberty was always supposed to do: welcome the tired, the poor, the huddled masses trying to get away from terror. 
The Danish justification for its policy of seizing the personal belongings of refugees is that the refugees should not get a better deal than Danish citizens who happen to be on welfare, because such unfortunate citizens are not allowed to possess assets valuable enough to make welfare payments unnecessary. 
If you're running from watching your mother choke her life away on poison gas, or your child beheaded while still clutching her doll, or your city reduced to rubble, and you manage to grab grandma's pearls on the way out of the building that's crumbling as you leave it, you're supposed to hand the necklace over? If you've spent days on a leaky boat, then half- froze to death crossing Eastern Europe while Hungarians throw expletives, or worse, at you--you're supposed to hand over the wad of cash you grabbed off the table before you left? Your credit card? The deed to the house that might still be standing if you get to go back? Your grandmother's fur coat? If a refugee walked across the border with the Syrian equivalent of the Hope diamond in her pocket, she should keep it.  What Denmark is doing now is a form of rape--ripping away memory and identity from people who have already been robbed of everything worth having. Plus, the Danish government reserves the right to strip-search. More rape.
Supposing you'd been at the top of the doomed tower on September 11, 2001 and you'd grabbed your pocketbook on the way downstairs. Would the city of New York have had a right to take your pocketbook to pay for the mess the terrorists made? 
Denmark is expected to know better. Bad Karma, Denmark--this policy will, in the end, harm you, is harming you right now.