By: Mutasim Ali
This post was written by Mutasim Ali, a summer intern at HIRC. Mutasim is a law graduate of the College of Law and Business – Ramat Gan, Israel.
“As our forefathers were in the distant past foreign workers in countries, not theirs, and in the recent past were knocking on the gates of various countries fleeing the Nazi enemy, and were rejected – we are required to apply the relevant legal rules with compassion and sensitivity to all involved ‘victims of persecution’. This is necessary because we are a Jewish and democratic state.” Meltzer, Israeli Supreme Court Justice.
Every immigrant has a unique story. Some of us are privileged and are able to choose when and where to go searching for a better life, while others who are less privileged are forced to escape involuntarily to survive. I am one of those who escaped genocide and ethnic cleansing in Darfur and I survived to tell the story of those who didn’t survive.
When I was forced to leave my home in Darfur in 2003, I didn’t know where was I going and I didn’t know where I would end up. All I knew was that I needed to run as fast as I could to a safe place so that I could survive to tell the story. My home was destroyed by the Sudanese government and its militia called Janjaweed. They murdered tens of people in my village and displaced hundreds of others, among them my family who still live in a displaced persons camp to this day. I recall the atrocities and the extermination of our people, the African ethnic groups in Darfur, for no reason but for their African racial identity. The government of Sudan committed systematic acts of murder which were recently defined as a genocide by the former US State Secretary Colin Powell. I have told my story hundreds of times and every time I feel more pain as I recall the stories of the past, the trauma, and, most of all, I think about those left behind.
More than 300,000 people were murdered, over two and a half million are displaced within Sudan, and tens of thousands of others are in exile. As a refugee, I escaped not only for personal safety, but also to tell my story time and again and to be a voice for those still in the darkness of tyranny and under persecution. I believe in the power of words and as much as telling this story is painful, it is the only way to make the voices of the victims heard and to involve other people in this just struggle. I was raised by community organizing parents. I learned to care for others and I always felt the obligation and the commitment to act. In Sudan, I was imprisoned several times as a result of my advocacy – I didn’t quit because as Albert Einstein said: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those watching them without doing anything.”
It has been almost nine years since I left my home country and now I live in Israel as the only recognized refugee from Sudan. I didn’t expect an easy life, but I did expect compassion and sensitivity and indeed I expected to find a safe haven. In some instances, I feel I don’t belong to Sudan anymore. It is a country of 1,886,068 km sq. that doesn’t have a place for many others like me. I am no longer with my family. I lost my social status, networks, and even habits. Now, I live in Israel the small country of approximately 20,770 km sq. where I find myself without a history and without representation. You hear people label refugees as a threat to society. Some say: “So what if they fled persecution? Why should ‘we’ as a society care? They should look for a shelter somewhere else.” People spew hatred and propaganda, blaming immigrants for almost every problem. They apply offensive policies to dehumanize immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers. It is so painful when you have to tell your story to prove you are in need of protection and instead of confronting your story with compassion and sensitivity, you are told go back to your home. This is not where you belong, you are an illegal infiltrator, you are told. The terms illegal and infiltrator come with so many connotations, all of which are negative.
Listening to those voices is discouraging because the negative voices are empowered by politicians and have the necessary resources to spread their hatred and propaganda. They base their arguments on false information and it is difficult if not impossible to have a constructive and reasonable debate.
I have tried to use these negative experiences as motivation to succeed. I completed my law degree and currently I am interning at the Harvard Immigration and Refugee Clinic, where we are helping asylum seekers with stories similar to mine. To help someone fleeing MS-13 or Barrio 18 in El Salvador is not just about responding to a story of a stranger, it is also about my story fleeing the brutal and vicious acts of Janjaweed in Sudan. It is personal to me. Listening to asylum seekers is not enough to understand their full stories. Our stories are much more than what is told. To understand our plight, one must experience it and I don’t wish that on anyone. All I wish is for everyone, whether they agree or disagree with welcoming immigrants, to consider the fear and pain asylum seekers and refugees are living in.
I am privileged to be part of this organization and most of all to be mentored by the amazing people who are committed to making our world a better place. For us at the Clinic, it is not just about legal services but also about creating a space for immigrants to feel that they belong and that they are welcome in this community, and where their story can be told and heard.