I am Ali: The waiting

by , under Katie Bell

Migrant Tales insight: Katie Bell wrote us an email a while back and asked if she could publish a story about an Iraqi asylum seeker called Ali, who spoke on condition of anonymity. She writes in an email: “After interviewing him for more details and exactly what he wants to tell, I will compose a ghost-written account of his story. Could we post his story on your site and make his voice heard?”

 “I am Ali, I am 32 years old and I am from Iraq. Over two and a half years after arriving in Finland, I am still waiting ‘in peace’ for a decision about my status in this country. I want to share my experiences to feel heard and I am hoping, still, that something can change. Here is my story.

At first I trusted the police. My first night in Finland was funny for me. I had tried to dress and smell nicer for our landing, but the days of travelling had ruined my chances of escaping the police unseen. They didn’t have enough cells for all of us who had arrived so I was put in the smoking room. I spent the whole night smoking and talking with the policeman on duty. He told me about his whole life, his family and he listened to my story. I felt relief for the first time since leaving Iraq. I finally felt safe.

Now I find it hard to trust the authorities. Knowing about how refugees, just like me, are treated by the police has changed my opinion. It is hard to ignore the stories. I have heard from friends about and witnessed deportations. They don’t give them time for anything: not to pack, not to think and not even to take their phone. I know people who have stood in front of the police like a shield. Not to fight, because of course they can’t stop it, but to let their friend grab whatever is important to them and to give them time. I am not scared because I have known that this could happen to me for 3 years now, it is impossible to live in fear. Instead I try to remain positive and make the best of my situation.

If guide telling you what you can take to your country if you decide to return “voluntarily.”

I work hard in a job that is much lower than what I had in Iraq. Even though I am so grateful of being able to work and earn a living, it is not what I want from my life. At the moment I am appealing the rejection of my work permit application and waiting to know if I can stay and continue building a life here.

I have met many people with racist views. I try and create a conversation with them because actually they’re not racists; they just don’t know us yet. They haven’t had a connection with us because they haven’t talked to us. If they did, they’d change their minds.

There’s a story I have told before, one friend likes to call it the Celine Dion Story. I was staying in a refugee centre a few months after arriving. We experienced a lot of troubles at the time with people who had attacked the building, who threw stones and even set on fires. One night there was a group of guys parked outside. We were warned against going out due to the previous problems but that night I ventured out. I thought to myself: ‘it may be careless but I have lived through scarier events in my life, this is nothing.’ I approached them peacefully, knowing full well that they wanted to fight, but I stayed calm and just spoke to them. ‘You’re not racists’, I said, ‘you just don’t know me yet’. After finding out about my past they asked ‘but why didn’t you stay to fight the terrorists in your own country? Why didn’t you stay to defeat ISIS?’ I still believe in my response: ‘when a man does not know his enemy, when he must even suspect his neighbours, it is not a coward who leaves but it is a clever man.’ I felt like they were opening up to me and after curious questions about my temporary home, my living situation, my treatment they asked me the best question: ‘Who is your favourite singer?’ ‘Celine Dion, of course!’ From then on neither side could be scared of the other and they even offered to help me. I wish I could have this kind of conversation with everyone, and then perhaps our situation or peoples’ perceptions of us wouldn’t be so bad. I believe we wouldn’t all live in such fear of the other.

When I’m asked how I feel, it is hard to describe one state of mind. Due to the uncertainty of my life, I am constantly worrying and calculating my situation. What do I do next? Where will I live? Every day I must reassess my life. Every day my head is heavy with the weight of my situation.

I recently turned 32, surrounded by friends and people who have helped me to create a life here in Helsinki. Like everyone of my age, I am starting to think of having a family, of settling down. My ex-fiancée, whom I had to leave, is still waiting for me, in the house next door to my parents who are also waiting for my return. Every day I think about going back to them.

The worst thing is I am not free to make a decision. I don’t have the freedom of movement enjoyed by many of my European friends. My passport and, along with it, my fate is held in the hands of the Finnish authorities. I feel like a prisoner in a prison with invisible walls.”

 This article is based on several conversations with Ali and ghost written by Katie Bell.