I recall a vivid memory from my childhood. What began as another customary afternoon in primary school, where our teacher had asked us to draw yet another spider diagram. This one in particular was to include words and images that we thought encompassed and represented our identity.
As is expected from children of eight years of age, I heard my peers present their ‘identities’ with various innocent childlike banalities including ‘Spiderman is my favourite superhero’ and ‘my shoe size is 3 and a half’ (the norm for a child aged 8). However, as I looked down apprehensively onto my diagram, the word I had written was ‘refugee’.
Even at that age, I understood that fleeing a battle zone defined who I was as a person, or at least felt it effected how people looked at me.
And when asked why I had written ‘refugee’ I remember defensively thinking, isn’t this what you were all expecting me to write anyway?
What was strange was that in my own mind, I didn’t connote being a refugee with any feelings of negativity. I wasn’t ashamed, despite the media constantly bombarding us with negative and often misleading images related to refugees. It was just a fact. I understood that because of political instability in my home country, my family and I had to flee the only place we’d ever known, and that this made us different.
We understood and saw pain that changed the way we saw the world and for this reason we could never be the same as everybody else. We stood out.
a state of armed conflict between different countries or different groups within a country.
For educational purposes just a little background on the War in Kosova:
- 1912 – Serbia gains control of Kosova from the Turks (the Balkan Wars)
- 1946 – Kosova is in the Yugoslav federation
- 1990 (July) – Communism began to collapse throughout Eastern Europe, the fate of what was Yugoslavia was uncertain. Ethnic Albanian leaders declare independence from Serbia. Belgrade dissolves the Kosovo government
- 1990 (September) – Serbia begins to suppress Albanian language, radio, schools, sacks more than 100,000 ethnic Albanian workers and participation in public life in an attempt to deter Albanian nationalism in Kosovo. Albanians in Kosovo begin their own unofficial schools, governments and civil society
- 1991 – Croatia and Slovenia declared independence from Yugoslavia. Serbs did not accept these declarations and attempted to violently suppress these attempts
- 1992 – Ibrahim Rugova is elected as the first president of the partially recognised Republic of Kosova
- 1996 – The Kosovan Liberation Army (KLA) forms. The KLA were an Albanian army that sought independence from Serbia
- 1998-99 – The KLA clashed with Serbian forces in attempt to separate Kosova permanently from Serbian control. Serbia attempted to crush the KLA and with the same tactics seen in Bosnia and Herzegovina. The tactics included the mass killings and torture of Albanians (Račak Massacre)
Immigrating to England has defined who I am.
But on a serious note, upon reflection and for both the development of this blog post and my life, I am grateful. If we had not experienced conflict back home, the opportunity to come to England and build something much greater than we could have ever imaged would have never been possible. The Kosovan War is the war closest to my heart, but there are many wars that have, are, and will continue to take place undeterred by experiences such as my own. And for many children, just like me and my siblings, who have to flee to a safer country and build a new life. If not for these horrible experiences, we wouldn’t be who we are today.
There are some amazing talented people who have aided our society so greatly who also identify with the label, ‘refugee’.
Just to mention a few of my favourite:
Bob Marely – fled Jamaica to Miami after being shot during political violence
Rita Ora – fled Kosova
Karl Marx –German refugee
Anne Frank – fled from Nazi Germany to the Netherlands
Prophet Muhammed (PBUH) – fled Mecca to Medina in 577
We live in such an age where anything is possible, yet we have leaders amongst some of the most developed countries turning people in need down. No refugee leaves their country unless they have to.
London is a home with no citizen specification, it is for any type of person, no matter your background, age, race, religion or sex. And for this I am proud to be a refugee living in London.