I Am Not Illegal, I Am Not a Crime - I Am a Refugee

This blog originally appeared on The Huffington Post.


The EU contains, as we all know, 28 countries. Twenty-eight countries that up until this day have not agreed on an EU-wide mechanism for relocating migrants. Twenty-eight members who have yet not created legal channels for humans to seek protection. Hungary fenced off its borders with Serbia, Croatia and Slovenia; meanwhile Germany, Austria, Denmark, Sweden, Norway and France also reimposed border controls. Denmark approved legislation to seize the valuables of refugees in the hope of limiting the influx of migrants this week too. Sweden will be rejecting the asylum applications of up to 80,000 migrants and will be preparing to deport them all back from where they came from. What does the EU truly stand for?

As a Swedish citizen I am disappointed, hurt and ashamed. After this decision made to deny 80,000 refugees the police in Sweden will hunt down people who are not allowed to stay, according to the Swedish media. As of today around 1,000 police officers patrol Sweden’s borders and they are expected to have doubled within a few weeks. This poses a major problem because it has been very difficult for countries to take back some of these citizens since ID documents are missing. They end up as stateless citizens.

The Probation Service staff in Sweden shall ensure that the expulsion decision refusing to travel, will be transported by charter or scheduled flights to their home countries. In 2015, 1,919 foreign travels were carried out by 2,810 people at a cost of $674,500,000. Some 10 % of the guarded trips were cancelled due to the resistance of the person that is being deported, or due to medical reasons. Sweden has money but not money to help those who have arrived? We have billions to give to countries like Turkey to help prevent refugees reaching Greece?

Now this topic is extremely close to my heart as I was once a refugee myself. Let me tell you, you do not have a penny left once you have arrived to safety. The people that are coming are people who have invested a lot both humanly and financially to get to Europe. You pay thousands of dollars per person just to get on these small rubber boats from Turkey to Greece in hopes of not drowning. You become illegal. You are a crime. You hide in trucks filled with people dead and alive, all fighting for one thing: freedom.

I continue to see photos and videos of refugees fleeing war zones, seeking protection in the West and fighting to cross borders. The issue becomes even more personal for me when I know that my mother and I have walked the same path as these children have. I was lucky enough to have a different destiny. I remember all the stories my mother used to tell me about how we got to Sweden as political refugees and why we ran away in the first place.

We did not get to Sweden by plane or car. Nor did we get to ride fancy big boats to get across the seas and many lakes we had to pass. My mother made it to Sweden after five very long months by walking over mountains, hiding under big trucks, seeking protection in caves and small rowing boats with at least 20 other people on it. Like many Kurds had to do in order to get to Europe in the 90s. My mother did not do this journey entirely alone, there were hundreds of other refugees fleeing and they went in groups. My father stayed in Kurdistan to fight the war then and he sent us money as often as he could. We would live off of tomatoes and bread if we were lucky enough. We saw people who fled with us die in front of us. People were drowning, some were shot while running over borders and some starved to death. On our way to Sweden we experienced poverty, threats, harassment and many times we were close to death. How my mother made it after those five months on her own, I will never quite comprehend.

We need the West to take responsibility for the disaster zones it helped create. We need to give communities with higher levels of both migrants and refugees extra resources and support. But people WILL flee as long as there is misery. For some, these people fleeing are an unwanted and uninvited swarm that we in Europe must keep out. In the hierarchy of death, anyone labeled “migrant” must take their place somewhere near the bottom. It is a dehumanised word. Migrant. Immigrants. Many see them as criminals. And who mourns petty criminals? I am not illegal and I am not a crime.

If we want to help those in need of our help, one thing we absolutely have to do is change public attitudes by humanising refugees. If we fail to do this small task, more women, men and children will spend their last few hours drowning in seas or suffocating in lorries. I am forever grateful to Sweden for having been given basic human rights, safety, been raised among strong democratic values and receiving free education. Yet today I stand heartbroken to see children and parents who were not as lucky as me and my mother and to witness so many sad faces as they are forces to go back to raining bombs and missiles.

Taffan is a Lecturer, Social entrepreneur, Activist and One Young World Ambassador.