In a Scramble to be a Refugee
There is a scramble here
at the Tanaf border crossing -
twenty thousand Iraqis
running away every day
from their war-ravaged land.
Twenty thousand runaways every day,
eager to cross to neighboring Syria –
young people and old,
peasants, professionals and workers -
jostling towards the counter,
pushing their passports and papers,
the pokerfaced officials
feeding their profiles into computers.
Expectant, yet fearful,
of the present, of the future
they wait for endless hours -
sad faces, supplicating gestures -
in the burning heat of the desert
at temperatures hovering at 110,
to walk into the unknown.
Pray, who kindled the fires of hatred
amongst these people,
settled in their homes and hearths
eking out a life of hard work,
at peace with each other -
what if ruled by a despot
yet, one of their own?
Instead of rising as one,
against the monster
that waged the war
and ravaged their land,
why have they risen
against each other
in their own sectarian skirmishes -
Shias against Sunnis,
Kurds against Arabs -
breaking into mindless battles
People who had been living together,
sharing their joys and sorrows together,
like loving brothers and good neighbors
now have battle lines drawn
in neighborhoods, villages and towns -
their nationhood at stake.
They are at each others throats,
killing each other in hundreds
through their suicide assassins
who die themselves to kill others.
What bizarre martyrdoms?
No doubt, even Allah has forsaken them,
and Iraq may never recover
even if it comes out of this strife -
divided or whole -
the wounds never to heal.
There is a gloom on their faces
as they patiently wait
for their applications to be processed.
There is not a smile
for a mile of their waiting lines.
Oh, how I see myself
and my own people in these faces,
fleeing from the terror
back home in Kashmir!
We also queued in long lines,
the sun beating on our bare heads,
to secure the ‘migrant’ card
and claim a refugee status.
We had no documents, whatever,
to prove we were who we were,
for we were forced to flee
from that frenzy
bare bodied, barefooted,
Eighteen long years
and still on the roads,
yet how desperate we were
to shun that paradise!
How desperate these people are
to walk into the unknown like us!
How little do they realize,
as we do now,
that being in exile
is a newborn plucked from the breast,
a tender plant pulled from its roots.
How little do they know
that exile is like living every day
and dying every day.
(Inspired by a picture in New York Times, 21st September 2007, of Iraqis desperate to flee their country and cross the border to Syria.)