The dignity of a refugee

I must preface this blog entry with a caveat: I am neither an activist nor a political person by any measure. The text contained within this post is meant solely to capture the multitude of emotions that I have experienced in a short span of time. It is not meant in any way as a comment or interpretation of the politics or policies of any nation. 

I am fortunate to work in a job which I not only love, but also one for which I travel around the world. I am currently in Budapest, Hungary. Although the past week has been spent attending various sessions and meetings for work, this weekend I have had the privilege of being able to volunteer for a while at the Keleti train station before catching my flight back home.

Having grown up in countries that are oft touched by violence and bloodshed, although upset by the manner in which human lives are affected – whether through death or displacement – I am rarely moved to tears. This weekend has been different.

90086b1c7e942a2ad41e1fc289d2e7cd2a06dd18517156a1009729daff130bed79ff14262d62ab31edea87b46b0778b6This weekend I witnessed firsthand the dignity and positivity of those whom we so routinely refer to as ‘refugees’ without truly understanding the trauma and enormity of the connotation behind this word. There is not much more that I can say, except to share my first impressions of the situation in the pictures which accompany this blog, and video shared on facebook (if you can hear beyond my weepy narration), as well as this one.

The ECER Conference that I attended, has also developed a blog as an initial platform to mobilise us researchers into giving voice to the Syrian refugees in Europe. Besides opening a channel for monetary donations, action plans are being formulated as I type this. Some suggestions put forth during a moot that I attended yesterday on ‘Amplifying the voices of refugees’ included action research projects involving the Syrian teachers and educationists amongst the refugees, as well as involving the students and young persons amongst them in dialogic learning and development of collaborations with the European Educational Research Association (EERA) educational networks. One colleague stressed the urgency of the call to action so as “to prevent the energies of these groups from floating away.”

c5982dc3795afdd84a991e784ad23b471a156a5d070a330987048670109fbaed c2e83298bfdba63a43ea70d144be2b28That particular phrase struck a chord with me this weekend as I worked amidst these amazing and inspiring human beings. Their resilience and their zest for life, their humble gratitude and their positivity at having escaped the trauma and violence of their homes reduced me to speechlessness time and time again. At one point, two men and a woman came to comfort me when I turned away with tears in my eyes, not wanting them to witness my weakness in the face of their courage and their happy demeanours. One of the men (the researcher in me prevents me from divulging his name, or calling him by a pseudonym) told me that he’s excited to get to Germany as he hopes to continue his studies to be an engineer. Another teenager told me he hopes to be a footballer, and he thinks he has a good chance in Germany as they have a good football team. Both these amazing people and countless others reminded me of the dignity they still have, along with hopes, aspirations and dreams, just as any other human being on the planet.

Around me at other locations around the station, little children and toddlers laughingly played with a ball, whilst a group of them petted a dog brought round by one of the local Hungarian volunteers. I observed throngs of men, women and young children lining up, waiting for a train to Germany. Incidentally, Migration  Aid, whom I volunteered with, are also helping the refugee families with little children with tickets for transfer to Germany. I helped with the clothes distribution, whilst other portals had been set up for food allocation and washing and bathing. Volunteers are welcomed no matter how much time they want to give, or what they feel they can contribute in terms of their skills and energies.

I could conclude with a quote from one of the uncountable happy and hopeful testimonies that I heard from the refugees, about their gratitude to the world for helping them, and their hopes and aspirations for building better  lives for themselves away from the war that is ravaging their homes, but I simply cannot pick just one; they are all such powerful discourses. Instead, I will conclude by quoting myself from a message that I sent to my mother, “These refugees have so much dignity. They’re so brave and positive. I’ll never forget them as long as I live. I think something inside me has changed forever.

Saneeya Qureshi © 2015


9 thoughts on “The dignity of a refugee

  1. Wow. This is a true testimony of an incredible witness account of the horrific sadness of the Syrian refugees. It is heartbreaking indeed, but, at the same time, uplifting, when one listens to their hopes, their dreams and their aspirations. Yes, regardless of their condition, they are still hopeful for a better tomorrow. God bless them.
    Well done, Saneeya, an informative, well-written, descriptive piece of writing! Kudos. 😊

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yes, it was literally heart-breaking at times to witness their situation. But they still smiled and were still so very grateful for just being there and being so close to the end of their ordeal. They are literally the bravest people whom I have ever met.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Reblogged this on asifas|muse and commented:

    Take a moment to be thankful for our lives, our privileged lifestyles and our beautiful innocent children – we are lucky to be born in a privileged society – the refugees in crisis have not a shred to call their own. Their homes, their families, every ounce of security and comfort they had built over the years has been brutally ripped from them – and yet their optimism remains strong, it is not shattered. They are refugees, not beggars, not criminals – these people have been displaced from their homes, they had dreams and plans for their future that will not materialize if the current situation persists. These people are seeking refuge – open your eyes & heart to help them – if you can’t help them then say a prayer – but please don’t thrash them by questioning their motives or validity – it is demeaning – we must promote compassion.
    Sharing a BLOG recently published by my most dearest friend Saneeya – struck a few chords..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing this Asifa. And yes – compassion is essential. I spoke to one family that have been refugees twice over – once when they left Palestine, and now this second time, having to escape from Syria. I cannot even begin to imagine the impact of the emotional trauma having to endure such experiences. God bless them.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Yep – it was their stories of hope and positivity that inspired me to write this post. Even in the face of uncertainty and tribulation, they are still looking forward to brighter futures and careers. My respect and admiration for them will never ever cease.


  3. Reblogged this on Maloquacious and commented:

    A thought provoking piece. An eye witness account of Syrian refugees camped at the Keleti train station in Budapest, Hungary. Saneeya writes an informative, sensitive and enlightening blogpost. Well done!


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