In recent years I have been working with brave Syrian refugee youth while leading the #MeWeSyria storytelling workshops in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, one of the largest refugee camps in the world.
In doing this work, there are a few discoveries that give me hope in this time of despair following the carnage of the last few days in Paris and Beirut, and the cacophony of some politicians refusing to support refugees in Europe and America.
For refugees, Syria is the end game… not Europe, not America
The traditional portrait of migrants and refugees is that they are helpless wanderers who just want to come to Europe and America for ‘the good life’, or to implant their brand of religion and culture in a foreign land. How untrue this is.
With news images of three year-old Aylan Kurdi washed upon the coast of Turkey and thousands of Syrians marching the highways towards Austria and Germany, I had asked young Syrian change-makers from the #MeWeSyria project what they see and think as they hear the words ‘homeland’ and ‘refugees’.
“Currently, we are refugees. I have an idea, a thought that the homeland and the exile are like the mother and the stepmother,” he says with a smile. “It is right that she embraces the person but it does not have the affection of the mother,” a refugee participant of #MeWeSyria tells us.
Another young Syrian refugee from #MeWeSyria, an aspiring photographer and artist, responded:
We feel sorrow and sadness. We ran away from the war, killing and destruction in order to live in peace away from the scenes of murder and bloodshed. Everyone flees with his family and his children in order to build a beautiful future for them. I did not have any country to protect our rights. We are human beings and we have the right to live in peace. We want peace and nothing else.
A teenage Syrian girl from #MeWeSyria who is mentoring younger Syrian refugees says, “I don’t want the world to open the doors for us. I want them to open Syria for us so we can go back home and live again.”
Europe and America are not the end game for refugees. Syrians’ first choice is to return to a peaceful mother Syria.
As part of the #MeWeSyria storytelling program, young refugees inside the Zaatari refugee camp are writing, filming, directing and editing their own short films. The project aims to decentralize the power of narrative, and activate changemakers through creative enterprise and the process of storytelling. In this particular piece, refugees explored the concept of home, or ‘watani’. They had no props or fancy sets. What they did have were their camera phones with pictures of Syria from before war…their spirit of hope and desire for peace, and the barren desert space surrounded by concrete walls and barbed wire.
The messages these Syrian refugees share are gifts to hold close to in these times of fear and uncertainty.
Past, present, future
As soon as we abandon the ingredients of peace, then we lose our past, present and future. As host countries and Western societies, we must remember this when enemies of peace will try and waiver our faith with cowardly attacks. This is what Syrian refugee youth teach us in the above video piece ‘Hope From The Ashes’.
The other thing to bear in mind is that some of the Syria’s young refugees are refugees precisely because they chose to stand up for the same values and rights that many of us in Western societies hold dear. And there are also many refugees who didn’t want any trouble, and were just trying to quietly earn a living to support their families, or finish getting their degrees so that they could one day give back to their community.
No matter which side you are on, or which way you look at it, Syria’s nightmare knocks on the doors of Western nations today, and our power as a collective humanity will be determined in our resilience for upholding hope, pluralism and peace with refugee youth, not absent from them.