Why are you here? And why did you choose Sweden? These are the questions Abdulalim Alkatea from Syria keeps hearing. Here he gives his honest answers and wishes to be heard.
Always peering over my shoulder, whenever I’m in public. At a bus stop. On the street. Suspicious eyes all around me.
When people see me they notice my foreignness. The second or third time we meet they ask: Why are you here? Why did you chose Sweden? Where are you from?
Previously these questions came naturally. They were spontaneous. Ice-breakers, discussion-starters. Recently though, after the refugee crisis and a spate of terror attacks in Europe, the reasons for asking them seem to have changed. They come with connotations, insinuations.
The line of questioning derives from suspicion and fear. It comes with a kind of accusation: You’re a refugee! Out of habit I satisfy my questioners’ curiosity in as soothing a way as possible. “My destiny has driven me here.” Or, “I fled war and death”.
But I’ve always wanted to give a more concrete answer, one that more fully answers the question of why I came here, and now I think I’ve got it:
I came here to blow myself up!
Yes, I came to blow myself up and unleash my human potential: my talents, thoughts and dreams. To start a new life. Forge a new beginning, far from the suffocating misery of the last five years.
I had to choose. Either stay in my homeland, now a heap of ruins, where I could very easily have died and you’d have known me merely as a number in the Syrian death toll popping up on your TV or iPad screen. Or flee for my life.
I chose to stay alive.
Some might think fleeing your home is an easy decision. Others might think that refugees have made the perilous journey to Europe to live on welfare, to sponge off hard-working taxpayers.
Most onlookers make an effort when watching us to see what we look like. Our colours and backgrounds. But few pay attention to the silent agony in our hearts.
For we are the friends of the dead: of our siblings, our loved ones, whose destiny was to be buried under the rubble. And still we live in a state of panic, afraid of the ever-rising death toll. Afraid that the names of more loved ones will soon be added to that bloody list.
In our refuges we refugees are carbon copies of the destruction and devastation afflicting our homeland. We are a reflection of that ruinous heap. We didn’t choose our destiny and we didn’t choose to be here. The war sent us.
You too, reading my words: you didn’t choose your colour, language, or nationality. Any yet you judge us on our destiny, and some of you smear us with your antipathy. You judge us on something that forced us here, on something we didn’t choose.
You and I have much in common. Our differences, cultural and otherwise, are not a danger. On the contrary, they enrich us. We should be able live together. We came into this life to work together, to build things together. Maybe we can share this world as happy partners. As brothers and sisters.
I am not my clothes. I am not my name. I am not the country I come from. I am my contribution.