Fatima Bhutto on the Refugee Crisis

Fatima Bhutto

Today, one in seven people is a migrant. This year, crossings of the Mediterranean Sea have already exceeded 300,000, and at least 2,500 lives have been lost in the process. What does it mean to be a migrant – or a refugee – in our time? What human rights can we rely on? And what hope is there for those who have fled their homes? Granta asks its authors to share their reactions to this profound human crisis. Click here to read the other responses in this collection of statements, poems, images and personal reflections from across Europe and beyond.

 

Syria was my home.

I lived there in exile as a child. My parents called it ‘exile’ because we couldn’t be in our own country, Pakistan. Because Pakistan was too dangerous, too violent, because there was no justice there.

Syria gave us refuge. My father had come from Pakistan. My mother from Lebanon. And me, from somewhere in between.

Syria protected and welcomed us into their country.

I wonder why my parents never called us refugees?

Growing up in Damascus, I never felt I was an outsider. Though I was not Syrian and Arabic was not my mother tongue, I felt at home. I lived in the oldest inhabited city in the world. I felt safe.

At night, the air smelled of jasmines.

At school, in the city, when we drove to Qasiyoun to watch Damascus at night – its lights blinking in the dark – no one called us refugees. No one made us feel that the city below – the oldest, most beautiful city, whose far away lights were white, gold and green – didn’t belong to us too.

And for a while, it did.

Even today, my heart aches when I hear the Syrian national anthem.

Eventually we went home. But Syria never closed its doors to us.

Pakistan (which never did become more just or less violent) and so many countries in Asia have long kept their borders open. Pakistan was home to the largest Afghan refugee population in the world for decades. Syria has always taken refugees.

Lebanese, Armenian, Palestinian. My mother and her family travelled to Damascus in 1982, after the Israeli invasion of Lebanon.

At the height of the Iraq war, around 2007, Syria welcomed as many as 2,000 Iraqi refugees a day.

Everyone.

Shia, Sunni, Christian, atheists. Men, women, the persecuted and the defeated. Syria was once home to the world.

This was always the beauty of belonging to these countries, to Asia: land was always open to the stateless and dispossessed.

There was no self-congratulation, no hysterics, no horse-trading over human lives. Watching the bureaucratic indifference to human suffering by European leaders, I can’t help but remember Syria and what it did for refugees – quietly and generously.

In a connected world, how can anyone close their doors?

The Refugee Crisis
First Sentence: Molly Brodak