Part V: The Story of Omer

2015. szeptember 07., hétfő

This past May a group of American students and their teacher decided to do their missions trip in Budapest with the refugee mission of Reformed Mission Centre (RMK). During their stay, students became acquainted with several people and families and they learned about their ways of life and the turbulent situations that forced them to flee. Part V.

Clare: “Omer starts his story by talking about life in Pakistan. There he had his family, friends, job, and everything he cared about. He was respected, he spoke the people’s language, and no one gave him disgusting looks as he walked by because of his skin color. But that all changed. 

“Omer is a part of the Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, one not recognized by the Pakistani government. This means that he is a non-Muslim minority that can be punished with three years in prison if he uses traditional Islamic greetings, preaches his faith, or says he follows the prophet Mohammed. The government does not protect him, and if he were to be killed, no action would be taken against his murderers.

“The job Omer had in Pakistan dealt with the Ahmadiyya Islamic sect. He was the man in charge of taking care of the people in his city and its surrounding areas. Omer ran a medical camp near where he lived in an underprivileged area where there was a lack in medical care and supplies. He even brought an American doctor to see patients and help prescribe appropriate types and amounts of medicine. Although this seemed like an innocent and wonderful achievement, it did not get the respect it deserved. 

“A village leader came up to Omer and asked him his name, where he lived, and whether he was of the Ahmadiyya sect. When Omer told the man the answers to these questions, the man yelled out to the villagers that the slaughter of Omer would make them all go to paradise. As Omer and the American doctor dodged stones the villagers started to throw, he left everything: the medical supplies, the doctor’s things, and all other items they brought with them to take care of these people. 

“Omer was thrown into jail with no trial, no fairness, and no idea of how long he would be there. But help came. Omer’s good friend in the Pakistani army rescued him after 10 days of being in jail. And the minute he got home from prison, his mom handed him a suitcase and a plane ticket to Azerbaijan because she said it was not safe for him in Pakistan. He had a visa there for three months because he was going to do work with a friend, and so he assumed he would come home soon. Little did he know, the goodbye he said that day would have to last for years.” 

Lauren: “After five moths Omer decides to return to his life and family in Pakistan. He makes a phone call home to announce his return. His Family immediately tells Omer that he cannot return home because his death warrant is now official. If he returns to Pakistan, he will be hanged.”

Clare: Omer went to Hungary and told the police that he was a refugee. This began a process that lasted for a long, horrible four years. Omer was fist sent to a closed camp for fifteen days while the government handled his request to start the process of becoming a refugee. After that, he moved to the refugee camp in Debrecen, where he would stay for over three and a half years. 

“The conditions of the camp were absolutely terrible. There was not enough food, and even when there was enough, it would be rotten. The people in the camps would be told that if the bread was moldy, they should eat all they could and just throw out the moldy part. The main reason for this is that the camp lacked money, something that affected both food and living conditions. There were bugs all over the camp, and the spray they would use to seal them out would never work.” 

“Omer said that the environment this fostered was a horrible one. When people were sitting in the camps with nothing to do, they were forced to lie on their beds thinking about their futures. The thoughts about whether they would achieve status, or be departed back to places where they would be imprisoned or killed, tormented the people there. Many would be so mentally worn out from this process that they even would go crazy. A lot of people left their families behind, and so they would have no one to talk to or share with. The language barrier made communication hard and created distance between those in the camps.” 

Lauren:  “Omer comes up with the idea for people in the camp to set up workspaces and create various goods that can be sold within and outside the camps. This way people have something to do during the day and can earn money to buy better food and improve the camp.  Omer presents this idea to the officials who rudely deny his requests.  He recalls the man saying the refugees are no better than dogs. 

“At one point, he even told the woman in charge of his status that he would rather just be sent home to die than waste any more time in the camp doing nothing with his life. He said he could live with seeing his family one last time and then dying because it would at least mean that he wouldn’t have to wait like this any longer. But she said that he was frozen in the country until status was decided, so he could not do even that.

“Omer said that what he thinks finally got him the status is what he said about the camps. Omer would speak out against the horrors of the camps, which got him quite a bit of attention from the judges. Many could not believe the things he was saying, and so they almost gave him his status to push him away from the courts. Omer believes that they realized he really did deserve his status, and at the same time they couldn’t have him bad-mouthing what the camps were doing. 

“But even after Omer got his status, he said that the hardships did not stop. He said that he faces so much racism in his daily life. When he sends people resumes and they see his name, they automatically associate him with a Taliban leader named Omer and won’t even consider him for a job. When he sees people in the streets, they see his dark skin and Middle Eastern look and automatically develop a hatred and fear of him.

“Omer also talked about the hatred he sees against Muslims. Islamophobia is very big in Europe, and he says that people cannot separate terrorists from all other Muslims. He says that he does not consider the extremists to really be Muslims because they ignore the integral teachings of the faith like love and peace, but somehow all Muslims get loped in with them anyways. He said that Ahmadiyya’s famous saying is “Love for all, hatred for none,” yet no one can see this message and other Islamic messages like it because they are blinded by racism and assumptions that all Muslims are terrorists.

“Omer wants so much to see change in world, but at least for now, there is not much he can do because his status is so fragile, and he can easily be sent home to die if he steps out of line.”

Clare Drosos and Lauren Slouffman

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We encourage you to read our  former GM intern Kearstin Bailey's blog about her time, spent in Hungary.