Story of Ola
"My name is Ola Sabah Hamad, I am a mother of four children, and I would like to tell you, my story." Like many other asylum seekers at the Polish-Belarusian border, Ola sought safety when she decided to flee the violence in Iraq. While she waits for her asylum papers in Poland, Ola pleads respect for the rights and dignity of refugees and calls for our support and solidarity. In an interview with a reporter for Dzień Dobry TVN (Poland), this 32-year-old Iraqi asylum seeker shared her experience on the numerous days spent in the border forests.
"I come from Baghdad. Life in my homeland is difficult, especially for families who dream of peace. I couldn't keep my children safe. After the defeat of ISIS in Iraq, terrorist militias took power. I had no right to choose or express my opinion because women's rights are not respected in a patriarchal and conservative society.
I was plunged in darkness, and I wanted to live to see the light of day - and it was this dream that pushed me to tread the dangerous forest in the Poland-Belarus border. I want to educate my children about racism and religious conflicts. I would like them to choose how they want to live and whom to pray to so that they can grow up in peace and learn what it means to be human.
After coming to Belarus, I tried to get to Poland many times. Both sides kicked us like a ball, becoming exhausted and more desperate. We begged the Belarusian border guards for water for the children, but they angrily chased us to the Polish side. I was running with my 5-year-old son. The children were pissing with dogs. She said, "We didn't die yesterday, but today we will definitely die. Die of thirst, hunger, fatigue, and everything. You don't know what's worse: leg pain, cold, or thirst. I was trying to be strong for my children, and I kept walking. I tried to give my children hope. I said: "Come on, we are already close."
Finally, we crossed the border. We decided to ask for asylum in Poland. Unfortunately, we were not warmly welcomed. We were kept in a Border Guard unit for 8 days and then taken to a closed camp in Biała Podlaska. This camp looked like a prison: high walls, barbed wire, and surveillance. All our belongings were taken from us, including our phones.
Every day we were awakened by the screams of prisoners who could not cope mentally being locked in a monstrous crowd. Anyone who did get there started losing their minds. Children and women suffered the most - some of them had suicidal ideations, others attempted to die by suicide. Among the youngest, panic attacks, outbursts of anger, and chronic depression were most common. Why were we treated like this after the ordeal we had to endure? Are we criminals? Why do children have to live for months in a camp that might as well have been a prison?
After two hunger strikes and numerous interventions by lawyers, psychologists, and activists, my family was finally transferred to an open center, where we had more #freedom. However, I will not taste freedom as long as other families suffer in forests and closed camps.
That is why I appeal to real people like you to stand up for the rights and dignity of innocent asylumseekers and refugees. We need your support. Don't be indifferent. With hope, I wish you could help me defend my friends and help us live in peace. We are all human, and we have the same rights.
I would also like to thank all those who supported us, who saved us from death in the forests, and those, working hard to stand up for the rights of all asylum seekers and refugees. - Ola Hamad
We at Rethinking Refugees would like to wish Ola and her family a warm welcome to Poland and hope that this would be the beginning of the beautiful and peaceful life she dreamed of.