I’m sometimes asked why I choose to speak up or get involved in projects regarding refugees. What’s not always easy to express is that I myself came to Sweden as a refugee back in April, 1993.
During the chaos of the Gulf War in Iraq, my family and thousands of others were placed in a refugee camp in of the deserts of northern Saudi Arabia. All of us were fleeing the war. All of us were seeking refuge from the bloodshed.
We spent three years there, imprisoned by barbed wire and armed military who would rather take to violence than use their words. We slept in tents and small houses made of clay, living as best we could in our confinement.
Twenty-five years later, I see the same life I used to live all over again. In freshly-captured photographs, I see the faces of people from recent refugee camps and other shelters where people are forced to live a life of exclusion. People are forced to live in a home that looks as distant from home as as they can imagine. In these faces, I do not see strangers. I see my family.
I see my own siblings running around barefoot among garbage in the scorching sand. I see my own parents who despite the lack of food and water, are forced to hide their tears and pretend that everything is going to get better soon, just so we can feel a bit better at night.
Above all, I see all the people who give their own lives along the way so that I and many young people will have a chance at brighter future, one that they were never given.
As a child in the refugee camp, I remember the joy of holding a cold glass of water or getting a piece of gum.
I remember The headaches caused by the desert sun that never seemed to go down.
And I also remember the pain of seeing my parents secretly crying over the life their children are forced to face.
All of these feelings have stayed with me throughout the years, growing up in the beautiful and safe country of Sweden.
With this experience in my back, I knew exactly what I had to do when the requests for help dropped in during the refugee crisis of 2015. It was the first time I got to work with refugees face to face and it didn’t just remind me of who I am or where I am from, but it also me showed how important my work was and the unique opportunities I have as a former refugee.
Now in 2018, my path has led me to Lebanon. There, along with others from the Crossing Lines team, I’m spreading a message of community and partnership. I’m breaking down the borders that separate us and bridging the gap that divides us from our fellow man and woman.
Our team will not just share their experiences the rest of the world, but also give the children and their families a new experience and different perspective to help grow their self-confidence and be encouraged to keep their dreams alive.
– Ali Jehad
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Photos from Ali’s childhood as a refugee in Saudi Arabia