“I’m not illegal, I’m a human being”

Ahmed, born in Somalia, has settled in Sweden. He is speaking to the European Parliament today about his dramatic experiences on the way to his new home. He told Amnesty International how he came to be there and what his hopes are for the future.

I left Somalia in 1992 aged nine with my mother and my brothers and sisters, because of the civil war. My family are still refugees in Yemen. Life in a poor country like Yemen is very very difficult, and it is getting worse.

I eventually decided to leave Yemen in 2011, taking a well-known route, through Syria, Turkey, Greece… to end up somewhere in western Europe. I had no other choice – stay in Yemen, without a job, or leave the country for a better life, and support the family. And I didn’t regret it. It was the right decision for me.

I didn’t think about consequences or suffering

I stayed in Syria for some days, we had to give smugglers money to cross the border between Syria and Turkey. It was the most dangerous border I have ever crossed, with the Syrian police patrolling the area. It was early February, and very very cold in the mountains, lots of snow. And we had to keep walking, for the entire night. We reached Turkey the next morning.

In Turkey, the police took us off a bus heading for Ankara, searched us, asked questions and looked for any sign we were from Syria. The next morning they took us to court. Then they took us to a detention facility in Adana, for about 90 days. Eventually the police let us go.  When I reached Ankara, I went to UNHCR (the UN Refugee Agency), and received an asylum seekers’ certificate.

I have crossed a lot of countries and I asked them for asylum to get food and shelter. They would say: you are illegal, so you have to go in detention. That word for me is really a big word to use against human beings – “illegal”. When I go to a country, I am not illegal, I arrive in a way I am not supposed to arrive. My message is: they should respect us. And they should just try to imagine what this person has suffered, leaving his country and risking the journey. Know that this person really has a reason to leave his country, no matter what reason that is.

On my first day in Sweden…I had set ideas about what to expect: when you ask for asylum the police come, they check your trousers, clothes, they look for papers, whatever, any sign. I took off my shoes to check if they had a “Made in Italy” label. In all the countries I crossed I cut all the labels out of my t-shirts. Because they would look for even the smallest signs of where you came from.

Then I went to an open centre for asylum-seekers. I said: “I’m from Somalia, I’m new”. They asked me: “What’s your name?” I gave them my name. And they gave me a pack! In that pack was a towel, toothpaste, tooth brush, pillow, blanket, sheets. I looked around for a policeman, rushing in to arrest me and to search me. But nobody came! And they said: you can go to your room and use this card to open it.

I was told in Sweden they don’t call the police to search you. They simply want to know who you are. For me this really is a super system to respect human rights in Sweden. In other countries, when they searched me, I would feel that I am different, not from their country, somebody with a different ideology. Here, they make you simply feel you are one of them, and human. But I’m lucky because I have heard from friends of mine, in very developed countries in Europe, rich countries, they do search you when you ask for asylum, they detain you, then they keep you there.

I’m speaking at the S.O.S. Europe action in Brussels …Activists from Amnesty International are handing over their petition with over 70,000 signatures to the European Parliament to ask them to protect migrants at the borders of Europe.

I think that if I can share my story and my experience, they will think a bit positively about the people who face the same trials. Now, when I speak to the friends I travelled with – some in the Netherlands, and some in other European countries – they all tell me horrible things. There are changes in the asylum and migration system in Europe.

For example, a friend who is now in another European country told me that before, if you were refused refugee status, you would stay in the camp and you would have access to for example medical care. Now things have become more difficult, which shows that they are no longer welcome. Another friend was in Romania, and suffered more than me. He spent one year in the woods in Serbia. Now he is in the Netherlands and he sleeps on the street. I am really worried about him. This guy suffered a lot more than me. I think, if he had told all his suffering, they would have looked into his case.

In the future, I really want to write a book with my true story, that’s my plan. I didn’t think of a title yet. Maybe: “A dream come true”. I want to write the book about my experience, the countries I have been to, the suffering I have faced.

I want to write it so that decision-makers can at least have an idea what difficulties people face.  So they can come up with a new system for migration and asylum.

I want to tell Amnesty members: you don’t have to stop until you reach your goals! Which is for humans, for human rights all over the world. So my message is simple: the job that you are doing is a great job for humanity and I’m really glad.

Ahmed lives in Sweden and is an active supporter of Amnesty International. He spoke to Carmen Dupont in Brussels.