GENEVA– Marwan Shoaib of Syria, Aziz Yousefi of Iran and Jeffrey Oboh of Nigeria faced a tough decision: stay in their homeland, facing persecution and violence, or flee and search for shelter and a normal life.
On World Refugee Day, June 20, the UN refugee agency revealed that 51.2 million people were displaced by the end of 2013, compared to the 45.2 million reported in 2012. Here are stories of three refugees who, after fleeing home, found new struggles.
Even if you ‘stay in heaven’, you will miss your family
Marwan Shoaib, 57, lived his entire life in Damascus. After facing three years of war in Syria, his family left when they ultimately lost hope the conflict would end.
Shoaib entered Sweden in May 2014 and now resides at a lakeside resort in Skebobruk, a town north of Stockholm. The resort is usually a weekend retreat for affluent Swedes, but it was rented out by the Swedish Migration Board as provisional housing for asylum seekers. Sweden is currently the only country granting Syrian refugees permanent residency. “I plan to get residency, find work and integrate into Swedish society, to create a better future for my children,” said Shoaib.
His wife and two kids are staying with a friend in Istanbul and other family members are in Beirut. Shoaib paid $10,000 for smugglers to get him from Damascus to the capital of Sweden. The Swedish Migration Board allows family reunification to any Syrian that is granted refugee status. The normal wait time for the result on an asylum request in Sweden is 127 days. While Shoaib waits for the decision, he is provided with food, housing, medical assistance and an allowance of $3.60 per day. While he is permitted to work, he has a slim chance of finding a job because he does not speak the language and is living in a small town.
He says that he likes Sweden, but he is lonely without his family. “This society respects people,” he commented. “The accommodation here is good and the people are very nice, but I miss my family. If you are alone, even if you stay in heaven – you will not like it.”
Grateful but not happy
“I’m glad I’m here but it doesn’t always mean I’m happy,” said Aziz Yousefi, a native of Iran. He does feel grateful to have food to eat, a roof over his head and a bed for his two-month-old son. In the refugee camp where he was for 22 years in Iraq, he did not experience such luxuries.
Yousefi, 44, arrived in Kitchener, Ontario, in 2001 with his brother and mother. He worked as a carpenter and then on the assembly line at BlackBerry until he was laid off two years ago. He was 8 when he left Iran. His older brother and father were killed during the country’s revolution.
“It’s a different struggle here. It’s not about survival here. It’s about adapting yourself in a world of technology, in a world of transportation and in a world of literature,” he commented. As a painter, Yousefi depicts his memories of life in a refugee camp by painting with oil and charcoal. Many of the scenes portray displaced people and war. He wants to portray refugee stories in honor of people who did not make it to tell their stories.
“I was a refugee myself and I try to speak on behalf of people whose voices aren’t heard,” said Yousefi.
Needs the refugee status in Italy
Jeffrey Oboh, 25, left his home in Nigeria after the radical Islamist group Boko Haram attacked his village. The attack killed his father and other family members. Oboh escaped to Libya and worked at a car wash outside Tripoli. However, he was jailed when the Libyan police began arresting African migrants. Oboh and other Africans escaped the prison. Afraid to stay in Libya, they sailed out on a small fishing boat about 300 km away to Lampedusa, an Italian island. They were lost at sea for two days until the Italian navy found them and brought them to Sicily. “They are the ones that saved my soul,” he said. “Without them, I don’t believe I would be alive today.”
Oboh arrived in Italy in July 2013, applied for asylum and has been living in housing provided by the Ministry of Interior to assist in his integration. He is staying in the Sicilian town of Giarre, which accommodates asylum-seekers from Nigeria, Senegal and Ethiopia. On top of housing, the centers provide these asylum seekers with legal assistance, food vouchers and programs for economic and social. Oboh receives a $2 allowance every day which he uses to pay for mobile internet service and basic clothing.
While he is allowed to work, it is hard to find a job in Italy’s struggling labor market. The average time for reviewing an asylum application in Italy is six to 12 months. Eleven months have passed since Oboh came to Italy and he still has not heard anything. Until he is documented as a refugee, Oboh cannot develop a new life for himself. “If I was in Africa maybe I would not be alive,” Oboh said. “[Italy] is taking good care of us, giving us pocket money, but what we need is the refugee status document.”
– Colleen Moore