In this beautiful message of hope, Khaled A reflects on the similarities between his experience as an asylum seeker and our shared experience of lockdown. He says “the mutual experience can help us all to understand each other better.”
Khaled is originally from Iraq, and has been in the asylum system for over 4 years.
This year is the anniversary of my fourth year in limbo. Like all of you, I’m following the Covid-19 pandemic on the news. I see much of the Western world living in a state of uncertainty and panic that it has not experienced for decades. This constant panic has infiltrated many areas of people’s lives, leaving few unscathed.
As a person that has been living in a state of uncertainty and limbo for many years, I thought it might be useful to share some humble advice on how to cope.
Only a few months ago, it was a time like any other. People were celebrating the New Year, writing their resolutions and planning for 2020. The general public could not foresee how much life would change in such a short space of time. This is very much what happened to me 4 years ago. Like many asylum seekers, in a short amount of time my life was turned upside down, and I was forced to leave the country of my birth, my family and everything that was familiar. All of my plans fell apart in the blink of an eye, and everything I had worked so hard to build crumbled around me.
This mutual experience can perhaps help us to understand each other better.
Undoubtedly, this is a very difficult and strange time. We don’t know when this situation will pass, and if the next phase will be better or worse. It is much like waiting in the asylum process. You don’t know when you’ll get an answer, and how that answer will affect your life. You don’t know whether the horrors you already faced are over, or if this is only the beginning. You cannot plan, you can only try to distract yourself and ignore the dark cloud above your head. You can only wait. However, like everything in life, sooner or later it’ll past. That’s the nature of life – it is dynamic and unpredictable.
In these moments of uncertainty where we can’t do anything but wait, we have two options: panic and become paralysed by fear, or stay hopeful that we are going to survive.
It is important to remember that regardless of the approach we take, time will pass and life will keep going on. However not all of us will come out of it the same person as when the crisis started. We will have to live with who we created out of ourselves in this time of uncertainty. If we do not look after our mental health, we will not be able to go back and enjoy the lives we built. On the other hand, if we protect ourselves by finding the hope and the joy in these difficult moments, we will become stronger and more resilient. We will believe in the fact that whatever happens, we have the strength to overcome. Like many asylum seekers, I can tell the stories of people who were broken not by their time living in a warzone, but by their time living in limbo, isolation and uncertainty, waiting for asylum. The reason for the limbo doesn’t matter – the result is always the same.
Hope is the only thing that will get us through this. I want you to look at hope outside of airy fairy, happy ending way in which it is so often used. I want you to look at it as a practical strategy and tool for survival. In difficult times, it is the only thing we have and it always works, especially when there is a possibility that the next battle facing us could be harder and we need even more strength to go through it.
You might ask: how in the hell is it possible to stay hopeful when you hear about the rising number of infected and dead? How can I keep going, confined to my house, with my job in jeopardy? How can I stay strong when I feel that imminent danger is at my doorstep?
These are all good, valid questions. I’ve been asking similar questions throughout my life in uncertainty. My answer to that is, look at the bigger picture. We’ve experienced a lot of crisis in history – pandemics, wars, recessions and depressions. They all passed. They never lasted forever. Sooner or later, this one will pass.
My question to you, my dearest friend is: who do you want to be after this one passes?
However, I am not advising you to close your eyes and ears to all bad news, and live in foolish positivity. On the contrary – collect as much reliable information as you can and add to your knowledge. In these times, we should be aware, ready to act and stay away from gossip and fake news, whose effects are so destructive.
I’m also not saying that you won’t have bad days. There will be times you feel that you don’t have it in yourself. You might want to cry, stay in bed, binge TV and turn off your phone. In these times, try to block out the noise and remember the difficult time will pass. In the words of Ted Hughes “You are who you choose to be”.
From my experience, I realised that hope works best in a time of struggle when you constantly feel that you are getting stronger and better every day.
If you stay stagnant during this time, naturally your hope will diminish. You will question yourself, you will question your mentality and the reasons for carrying on. I found that the best way to make myself stronger is to add skills to my arsenal. By learning every day, I feel that I am opening up more opportunities for myself once this all ends. I can see my future and the person I want to be more clearly. This has made me stronger, excited and more confident.
Four years ago, when I fled my country, my main skill was in translation and interpretation. In these 4 years of limbo where I haven’t had the right to work, I’ve managed to learn a new language and obtain qualification in data science through two reputable universities. Leaving aside how this helped me stay away from depression, how different are the chances of success between me in 2016 and me in 2020? I have begun to dream of a life that I never would have believed to be possible.
Think of a topic or skill you’ve always wanted to learn, think of yourself after this lockdown, with and without that knowledge or skill. How does it affect your life and opportunities?
My message to you my friends:
The only strategy that can prepare us for life after Covid-19 is learning how to keep the light of hope burning strong, and believing in ourselves and who we want to be. Hope and solidarity are the only things that can get us out of this. It doesn’t matter how this started, we’re all in it together. The virus doesn’t make distinctions between nationalities, skin colour, age and level of education. It affects people in China, Germany, Spain and the UK the same as Iran, Iraq, Syria and Afghanistan. If we don’t work together against this common enemy, it’ll change the world as we know it forever.
Stay safe, informed, hopeful and learn something. Trust science and humanity and don’t let anything divide us. Together we will come out of this stronger!