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An American Writer Heads to the Front Lines of the Refugee Crisis

First I found children. Born where they will not live, I found them on the road, braving the elements—with the help of the larger humans who are their caretakers—to reach a country of whose language they have never heard a single word.

I asked one Hungarian young man, Attila, if he thought Hungarians, collectively speaking, were angry about the massive barbed wire fence that had been erected along their southern border. Attila said: “Angry about the fence keeping out the refugees? No, we're only angry we can't shoot them all."

Another Hungarian, however, an aid worker, Krisztian, told me that helping others was excellent treatment for his own pain too. Looking in his soulful eyes, I understood. He went on to tell me that he, too, came from a broken family (his mother was a drug addict, his father an alcoholic), and that he therefore completely understood how it felt to be in need and neglected. Krisztian had volunteered for missions in Africa and intimately described a scene in Ghana when he'd come across a six year old girl with two large wounds, one on her hand and one on her back. Collected on each wound were thousands of flies.

“That,” Krisztian said, gazing off, “was when I realized that no matter what I did, I couldn't help everyone.” I asked him what help he was able to offer the girl, and he told me that there was nothing he could possibly do. The wounds were already badly infected and they were in a remote village with no medical care for hundreds of miles.

When I went on to ask Krisztian about the disparate reports I'd been hearing, of both Syrian refugees fleeing war and economic refugees seeking only higher incomes, he told me: “Everyone has the right to seek a better life. In fact, we all DO seek a better life.” It flashed in my mind that even someone leaving Boston for the sake of a higher-paying position in New York could also be considered an 'economic refugee'. The only difference being that there was no national border to cross, no risk of detention and abuse—but the force of the drive was in a measure propelled by the same quality of aspiration, the same quality of hope.

Fugitives without crime, I learn that the refugees cast things to the side of themselves in order to confront, more naked, what's ahead. Some have lit their jackets on fire in order to melt them, then used this material to cover up the barbed wire so that they can more easily scale fences. Many things are dropped along the way but the fact is that a smart phone, for these modern pilgrims, is essential. GPS, shared information on Facebook about where the borders are opening and closing, and advice from fellow refugees about the best travel routes can make a phone as precious as drinking water.

Antonio, a photographer from Mozambique, traipsing the reinforced barbed wire fences built along more than one hundred miles of Hungary's southern border, informed me that he found pairs of shoes, blankets, children's toys, photographs of loved ones, a Koran. The Koran was just five steps from the border. The unknown refugee had carried God far, but slipped across the border without Him. Antonio says “There are times when God must stay behind. There are times when you need a phone.”

International borders are where the confrontations and clashes—and therefore the vicissitudes of refugee existence—are the fiercest. A few refugees I spoke with insisted that the Bulgarian border was particularly bad. At that border they'd been arbitrarily beaten, whipped—even administered electric shocks. The pain in their eyes, the residual recoil of the victimized, told me it was true. I gazed at the young men cowering on the tracks. Old women in their colorful clothes sheltering their grandchildren from the dust of passing cars. And children, their eyes tuned to wonder, gazing at me:

A refugee to their little world, passing freely by.

Author: Lucien Zell

Category: Travel Viewed: 254 times
Username: PraguePoet Listing Ref: 1059108872
Date of Listing: 02 December 2017, 10:17:07



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