If You Were a Refugee…


PNN – Palestine News Network -12.01.11 – 15:31

By Maria Winther – What are refugees, really? We hear this term so often in the media, but seldom understand what it really means. To illustrate this, let’s put the situation of the Palestinian refugees into a Western perspective.

For many Western people, the most recent occupation they have any relationship to is the German occupation during the WWII. Imagine that your country (let’s call it Midland) is now about 5,600 square kilometer. That is about one fifth of Netherlands, the double size of the urban area of Paris or the double size of New Jersey. Before your family used to live in what is now New Germany, east of Midland. You had a big farm growing potatoes, yellow turnip, apples, pears and cherries and were self-sufficient. As the oldest child in the family you would help selling fruit and vegetables in the market. You used to play with your siblings under the cherry trees and in the nearby woods. The farm and the land had been in your family for decades and your family is proud of their land and their living, you had everything.

However, when the state of New Germany was established in 1940 the population (your people) was driven out by violence. Your family heard rumors of murders, rape and burning of entire villages and feared you would suffer the same fate if they stayed. One morning the Germans came into a village nearby. They climbed to the top of a church tower and started shooting everywhere. Your family packed only the most necessary with them, only your most valuable things, some jewelries and family pictures. You locked the door and took the key with you so that the house would be protected from looters until you came back. You waited until the shooting silenced for a while and then escaped with your three old grandparents and your four younger siblings.

The Germans came from the East, so your family fled west towards the neighboring country. Even though you didn’t hear any shooting you kept on going because you were terrified. Your family other families that told stories of atrocities and you feared for what would happen to the girls in the family if the soldiers reached them. When you reached Midland, you found a cave where you could stay.

After a couple of days you heard the news that the Red Cross had put up tents in a place close by called Springfield. Your family left the cave and went to the tent camp where you stayed for five years. The camp was cramped you felt you were living on top of your other family members, but also the other families. There were no personal space, everyone in the camp heard every sound and saw everything that happened, from fights within the family, toilet visits to private time between the husbands and wives. The closest fresh water supply was four kilometer away and everyone from the camp went there to get water. Your mother sometimes stood in the line for water for more than 12 hours to get water for the family.

After five years UNRWM (UN Relief Work in Midland) started to build houses of bricks, each room measured nine square meters (3×3 m). These rooms would house a family of five or six people. Your family had ten people and you were therefore given two rooms. Even though the houses were better than the tents, there was still a lack of room and personal space. After 5 years four water taps was installed in your camp but the water supply was unreliable and the queues were long. The houses have been extended, but there is still a lack of personal space. Electricity was installed in the 80s, but both the access to electricity and water is limited and unreliable.

In 1991 the Germans allowed you and your sister to visit the land where your family’s farm used to be. You brought the key for your house that your family had kept for then 50 years. But everything was gone, the farm, your old house, the trees where you used to play with your siblings, the fields where your family held cattle. A big road was build where your house used to be and on the fields a big shopping mall. Some security guards noticed you and chased you away. They told you this was not your land and that you couldn’t stay there. Both you and your sister were heartbroken. Nothing was left of your childhood paradise. Now in 2010 you know that you will never be able to return to your house and your land.
This story is not real. But if you had been a Palestinian refugee, your story could easily have been similar.

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PNN – Palestine News Network – If You Were a Refugee….

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