Monday December 28, 2015

‘Refugees’ Share Their Survival Stories

The camps took place at three sites in Essex, Shropshire and Cheshire over the weekend of December 19-20. Like real refugees, the 150 participants were required to show ID papers, trek for miles along muddy tracks, cook their meals using meagre rations, and sleep out in the winter cold.

Their efforts have so raised more than £45,000 in sponsorship – vital funds that will enable Islamic Relief to protect thousands of real refugees against the winter cold in countries like Syria, Lebanon and Afghanistan. As little as £20 provides a family with a stove, while a gift of £165 provides a refugee family with a complete survival pack – a stove, mattresses and bedding, warm clothes and boots for the children, and a month’s supply of food.

The camps may be over – but the coldest weeks of winter are yet to come for real refugees. That is why Islamic Relief’s winter appeal is so vital.

Sadia Khurshid took part in the Shropshire camp. “I struggled to sleep with the cold temperature, the strong winds, the hard ground and emotions uncontrollable,” she reflects. “But I wasn’t a real refugee – I had layers of warmth, protective boots, help and support.

“Many real refugees have nothing but the clothes they flee in. Some are abused and raped. I had enough water but some don’t have a drop. I had hope for safety, whereas they are fearful of the unknown. I only walked for five hours, while many have to trek for weeks.”

Shamima Malik took part in the Essex camp. “What we hear about on the news doesn’t even scratch the surface of what refugees experience,” she says. “In the night I was freezing, tossing and turning, feeling my body bruise as the muddy bumps hardened into stones underneath me. Before that we shivered on a thin ground sheet as our hearts were touched by the stories of three courageous Syrians who joined us to tell their stories.

“One was a refugee dentist, who spoke of ambulances blown up, medical centres attacked, staff including doctors tortured, friends killed in front of him and watching helplessly as his beloved country was being destroyed.

“Then there was a young Syrian pharmacist who moved to London long before the crisis began. Most of her family still live in Syria, and she expressed the emotional torture she felt as she received news of her relatives being shot and killed, and her fiancé being detained and abused.

“Finally, a Syrian engineer spoke about his country’s political crisis, and how civilians are paying a heavy price for the conflict. Like the others, he expressed gratitude that their plight was not being ignored by us.

“Their stories were all horrific and had some of us in tears. It was these personal stories that affected me most because behind all the refugee statistics there are real people like you and me. We need to help them, to speak out, to feel their pain, to care and not to give up.”

Ateeq Salik, our Northern Regional Fundraising Manager, took part in the Stockport camp. “We walked through mud and forests, for over six miles, at random points getting our ID checked, being questioned, intimidated,” he says. “Sometimes we were pulled to the side, our bags emptied, personal items taken from us. We paused for prayer en route. All to simulate the difficult journey refugees would take.

“Eventually we made it to the refugee camp: simple eight-man tents where we would spend the night, surrounded by thick mud. At one point we split into three groups to represent refugees and displaced people in three different countries – Syria, Jordan and Lebanon – to learn about their plight.  We also had to simulate the difficulty of trying to provide for so many refugees by being given a limited budget. Should we choose hygiene kits over blankets? Children’s clothes or stoves? It was a real eye opener.

“At the end of it all we were determined to return to our communities to raise awareness of what we learned and also to raise funds. We had a long, tough and tiring weekend, but we hopefully managed to spark something within us that will last for a long time.”

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