It has already been seven years now and I am still a refugee.
This is a story told by Elham. Her family is from Afghanistan, but moved to Iran where grew up before her family moved to Malaysia to become registered refugees with UNHCR. Today she and her family continue to find their temporary home in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.
“My family is from Afghanistan, but I remember Iran as my home. That’s where I lived with my family until I turned 7. I was about to start school when my family made a sudden decision to leave for Malaysia. It happened after my parents called a relative who had moved there few months before. They had totally convinced my parents that life in Malaysia was good and far better than in Iran. When I heard about this sudden decision and saw them preparing to leave, I thought that they were being very unfair to me. I was annoyed. I was supposed to start school in two months’ time but clearly that was not on their agenda. I was sad. I had spent my whole life in Iran. It was the only place I had ever known. But what made me saddest was the fact that I was leaving my grandma, my uncle, his family, and my dear aunt.
I have two aunts and an uncle from my mother’s side, none from my father’s. My mother is the eldest. All of my mom’s siblings have families of their own except for one aunt. There were three families who had decided to go to Malaysia to start a better life. At that time, one of my aunts was preparing to get married. Her marriage had been planned to take place a couple of months later, but we were to leave before that. My cousins, my siblings and I loved her very much. Not being able to see her on her wedding day was terribly heartbreaking.
To gather enough money for the plane tickets, fake passports, and to pay the dealers, we had to sell all of our properties except for some change of clothes. After selling so many things, an unfortunate thing happened. We lost two million touman and everyone thought my elder brother was the culprit because he had, on previous occasion, taken money from my parents without their knowledge. My brother was ten at the time and only three years older than I was. I was not very fond of him as he seemed to take delight in bullying my younger sister and I every so often. He was always strutting around behaving as if he was the strongest. When my cousins and I heard that he was being punished, we all went to take a look. My parents and some other elders were in a room and we watched them silently from a small window located near the corner of the room. From where we were standing, we could see that both his legs were tied and he was hanging upside down. He was crying the whole time — so much for being the ‘strongest’ — and denying that he was the one who took the money. Ironically, the sight of my brother sobbing while being hit on his buttocks caused tears to roll down my cheeks. I stifled my sobs with great difficulty as I did not want our presence to be discovered. I felt very sorry for him but there was really nothing we could do. Then, out of nowhere, my elder sister, who is six years older than I, came and shooed us away. That night, at my uncle’s house, I kept crying under my blanket. So many thoughts flooded my mind.
A week later, my parents and my younger sister went to another city in Iran for our passports. As we had already sold our house, we went to live at my uncle’s place with his family, grandma, and aunt who was staying behind in Iran. Even though I was, and still am, very fond of them, living and sharing a house with so many people was hardly comfortable. It was then that I started to truly appreciate the comfort of my own home. We stayed with them until the day of our departure. On that day, a somber mood lingered in the air — we cried, we hugged each other and we said our goodbyes. We had chartered a bus to send all three families to the airport. When the bus started its engine, my uncle had a change of heart. He signaled to the bus driver telling him to hold on. He wanted to accompany us to the airport. Then, my grandma hurried inside the house and came back with something in her hand. She got onto the bus and gave each of the children their own money to spend at the airport. All together there were fourteen children and giving money to every one of them did cost a lot. I spent my money on things that were popular in Iran and kept some of the remainder money as a momento from Iran and of my life there. Up till today, I still have the coins to remind me of where I came from.
At the airport ticket counter, we were held up for a bit. At that time, I did not know that our passports were fakes, but I could clearly see that the delay had made my parents anxious and nervous. I asked my mother what was wrong. She pulled me aside and in hush tones told me about our fake passports. Then, it was my turn to feel frightened because I knew that if they found out we were trying to leave illegally, they would reprimand us and not let us pass. I held onto my mother’s hand very tightly and felt my heart beating faster by the second. Somehow they did not detect anything wrong and we were able to pass smoothly after that…”
To read the rest of Elham’s journey to Malaysia, the country she believed would allow her family “to live a better life and go to a better country,” you can pre-order “Dawn of New Sky” at www.igg.me/at/storiesfrom.
Stories like Elham’s were included in a book of refugee stories. Teenage boys and girls who came to Malaysia from Afghanistan, Iran, Somalia, and Myanmar have shared their journeys and struggles on the way. Their lives weren’t easy back at home, and their lives in Malaysia are very different from the lives of any local Malaysian or expat. This book gives you a chance to see the “refugee crisis” from their perspective and in the words of those who live those stories. You might be amazed at what kind of life people are leading, your neighbors in the same country and city. You might also be amazed by the strength and wisdom the refugees, even kids and teenagers like Elham, hold within them.