Story of Amir
During the war, Europe's welcoming of 3.3 million Ukrainian refugees exposed a double standard for nonwhite asylum seekers. For example, the warm welcome granted to Ukrainian refugees in Poland has starkly contrasted with the recent treatment of Iraqi and Afghani refugees, some of whom froze to death on the eastern border.
Amir* detailed the discrimination and acute challenges he confronted when fleeing the war in Ukraine. He holds a Syrian passport, one of the weakest passports in the world. Therefore he constantly faces bureaucratic nightmares. However, despite hostility from the authorities, his experiences have been peppered with small acts of kindness and solidarity from civilians. In a Zoom interview, Kyiv resident Amir, who was visiting Odesa, described being woken up "at 5am to the sound of explosions" on February 24th, 2022 - a date etched in history as a significant escalation of the war in Ukraine that has been ongoing since 2014.
Due to media coverage of Russia's military intensification, Amir had the foresight to send his wife and two children to a safe place in Germany a few days prior to the reinvasion. He remains "glad they did not have to go through the horror" of experiencing the conflict first-hand. Unfortunately, this was not Amir's first experience of war. His life has been upended on numerous occasions. His first memory of being in a conflict zone was during the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait when he was a young boy. He remembers the devastation he suffered from gas attacks in which he "could not breathe." Amir was a student in Syria when war broke out there too. "I woke up to bomb explosions," he lamented. "I left when I started seeing tanks in the street." Amir returned to Kuwait and stayed until 2020 when he relocated to Ukraine - his wife's home country. In order to reach his family in Germany, Amir fled to the Moldovan border, where he was initially refused entry. He found the interrogations incredibly anxiety-inducing, especially considering his life and future with his family were hanging in the balance. All he could hold on to at that moment was hope and a few personal belongings.
Amir* spent 7 hours in limbo before being allowed into Moldova because he transited directly to Romania. Once he reached Bucharest, Amir received encouraging information that Hungary would potentially allow him a safe passage. He got in touch with a Romanian friend, who offered to help him across the land border. With the kindness and determination of his friend, Amir managed to reach Budapest, where warm-hearted locals greeted him with small gifts of water, snacks, and restrooms free of charge. These tokens of goodwill warmed his heart; it was a bittersweet outpouring of altruism in a time of immense catastrophe.
The next hurdle was finally reuniting with his family in Germany. Thus he boarded a train from Budapest via Austria. Again, the inevitable border crossings were distressing. Notably, at the German border, there was a different line for those with non-European passports leading to a prison cell "like [they] were criminals." He recalled that "it was freezing," and the police confiscated their personal belongings. The situation felt "very stressful" as the uncertainty of the looming jurisdiction haunted them. Amir had not slept for two days.
Eventually, Amir was discharged, much to his relief. Nevertheless, he was extremely fatigued and had to travel by foot to the train station feeling physically and emotionally drawn. At this point, Amir had been traveling almost non-stop for six days, but at long last, he was about to reunite with his loved ones.
Amir is "having to rebuild [his] life for the fourth time now," and suffers from post-traumatic stress. He is on a state of high alert and is "always worried" about war. His hope for the future is to "settle down and live a normal life" after being uprooted so many times. Amir's passport overshadows his true identity, as he does not at all perceive himself as Syrian - more importantly, he is a loving husband and father and has a successful career in I.T.
In an age of static and homogeneous identity, it is essential to remember that we all have multiplicities. We are not just attached to tribes and identity documents under a birthright regime.
Written by Amber Johansen