Refugees’ Guardianship among Themselves … Are Strangers like Kinsmen or Scrutinizers?
Escaping oppression, injustice, murder, censorship and the unilateral policies in search for security, stability, freedom, respect and the right to difference are some of the endless reasons why many Syrians emigrated and searched for better countries to provide them with the life necessities they wished to have in their country, after ousting Al-Assad’s dictatorship. Those who were fortunate enough were able to head to countries that are ranked high in freedom and quality of life indicators, such as Germany, Sweden, France, and the Netherlands.
However, freedom in these countries does not necessarily mean being able to fully enjoy it. Paradoxically, it is often the refugees themselves who limit each other’s freedom, and the crimes that happen occasionally between refugees are a clear example.
Reem is pushing her baby stroller into the streets of the city where she lives, in Germany, trying to adhere to street etiquette, refugee’s ethics and Ramadan etiquette. “I always feel like people are looking at me, whether German citizens, since I’m a refugee and my deeds are under scrutiny, or Syrians who have nothing to do other than observing each other. We used to say strangers are like kinsmen, but what turned out to be is that strangers are scrutinizing each other,” says Reem.
The annual report on crime rates in Germany, which is issued by the Federal Ministry of the Interior in April 2017, shows that the number of ‘criminals’ among the refugees increased by 50 % in 2016. According to the report, the ministry recorded approximately 3,772 crimes that immigrants and refugees had committed in Germany.
In fact, refugees and immigrants represent 8.6 % of all suspected criminals in Germany in 2016, compared to only 5.7 % in 2015.
The German Federal Minister of the Interior attributed the high rate of crimes among refugees to their living conditions, as most of those suspected of committing crimes were living in 2016 in shelters that they share with other people.
Reem, who is aged 25, expressed her displeasure with the customs that moved with the refugees to Europe. “Interference in each other’s privacy is something we have as Oriental people, but I see that it has become more intense than it was before,” she said. “In Syria, we never heard of someone killing someone else for eating in public during Ramadan. There wasn’t a lot of uproar about the hijab being taken off by a girl who was forced to wear it. However, these incidents are always happening here in the country of freedoms, as we thought it would be,” added Reem.
Reem is taking part in a painting and languages course for women refugees. “After every course, I start seriously thinking about dropping out because of the nature of the conversations among women and their constant backbiting of women refugees they know. Of course, backbiting revolves around trivial reasons, such as changing the type of Hijab or its color, or establishing friendships with German women. What I hear makes me think twice before doing anything, out of fear of being misinterpreted,” she said.
Referring to the lack of freedom between refugees and the principle of “mistrusted until proven otherwise,” Reem says: “Because of the length of the day during Ramadan and the fact that I am breastfeeding my child now, my doctor advised me not to fast out of fear of dehydration.” She adds: “A week ago, one of my acquaintances saw me drinking water during the day in Ramadan. She looked at me in a disdainful manner, what compelled me to talk to her and explain my position out of fear that she would talk about me in a bad way to the other women.”
Be Like Us
The situation in Turkey is not very different. According to Oubeida, a 27 year-old programmer from Homs, “everyone wants you to be a copy of them and to choose their same choices. If you don’t do that, they will start trying to prove that you are wrong. Besides, the backbiting won’t stop. Honestly, this is why I tried to avoid talking to Arabs and Syrians as much as possible in an attempt to avoid the gossiping and the repeated bets on the failure of those who are different.”
Oubeida gives an example of this claiming: “It starts when others choose the city you live in, after you leave Syria, and ends with the place you shop from, the quality of the clothes you wear, the bank where you deposit your money and even the need to marry and have children. Nobody wants you to be different or refuse the common choices, and you must justify everything you do and you would better take permission before you do what you want.”
Fear or Schizophrenia?
Samar, a 30-year-old Syrian refugee in Germany, moved to Germany three years ago to study communication engineering. She started building ties with Arabs and Syrians there when studying at the language school, where she went through the first interference in her private life by Syrians. “My family stayed in Egypt and I came to Germany on a scholarship. Probably, that is the reason why young Arabs and Syrians at the language school treat me with a kind of guardianship, regarding people I talk to and the way I dress up. They intervene directly and frankly in my choices, as if they are my family or my brothers,” says Samar.
Samar refers to a phenomenon she noticed among young Syrians, which she called “schizophrenia.” She clarifies this by saying: “The Arab and Syrian young man lives outside the Arab world the way he wants. He goes out to wherever place he likes, accompanies whoever he wishes to and tells his friends and foreign friends about the tolerance and moderation of religion and that ‘To You Your Religion and To Me Mine.’ At the same time, he comes to me not to talk, but rather to impose on me his opinion that the songs I hear are taboo, and that I should not talk to men or mix up with them. This is an incident that happened to me, and when I quoted from a book by Sheikh Yusuf al-Qaradawi to express my opinion about the permission of listening to music, the young man mocked him saying do we actually believe in what al- Qaradawi says?”
These positions, which young men consider as “fear” for their Syrian sisters, can take a more serious and worse turn. Samar continues saying: “One of the Syrian young men tried to approach me, but I did not pay much attention to him and I turned down his attempts to attract me. After a while, I started receiving threatening letters that I find every morning in front of the door of my house. This was really disturbing and the content of the letters became aggressive and frightening. That is when I decided to resort to the police, and to my surprise I found out that the young Syrian man I turned down is the one who sent these letters.”
Samar confirms that Syrian refugees’ intervention in each others’ lives is a widespread phenomenon in her surroundings. She says that “the intervention and censorship is a general feature, but they are becoming more intense on women and girls, as the Arab community refuses to see a woman in leadership, and hates it when a woman gains an equal share of freedom.”
We do not Want a Syrian Professor
Mohamed, who is 35 years old, is a Sweden-based information engineer. He agrees with Samar that refugees are focusing on the behavior of women, but he also confirms that this affects everyone. Mohamed asserts that “when I was in the camp, I was surprised by the problems I encountered. I attributed these problems to the amount of free time everyone has, as there is no work and nothing to be busy with. That is when intervening and backbiting starts: does that person pray or not? Why did someone’s wife take off her hijab? Why someone is wearing shorts? Why do they drink alcohol? Also, problems between women, including the ones that appear between the mother-in-law and the daughter-in-law in addition to jealousy, were widely spread.”
As an example of the hostility that occurs among the refugees, Mohamed talked about an incident that happened to him at the language school, when the refugees asked the administration to organize computer courses for them. Mohamed volunteered to teach them as he is specialized in the field. However, their reaction was surprising. “I did not expect that they would refuse me as their teacher. They told the administration that they want a Swedish teacher rather than a Syrian one. The administration agreed and hired a Swedish teacher and I was asked to interpret what the students do not understand. But that also made them angry. This is apparently what made them boycott the computer courses,” added Mohamed.
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