About Refugees, By Refugees

Shammi Haque

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Germany

Bangladesh

Stateless

Nooshin Sanjabi

I always wanted to be a journalist,” says Shammi Haque (27) from Bangladesh. Growing up, she constantly questioned women’s role in society. By her twenties she was blogging about feminism and human rights. Despite online death and rape threats, she says, “I was always sure that what we were doing, what we are writing, and breaking the taboo, this is good for our society.” But when other bloggers began to be murdered, Amnesty International helped her get to Berlin, where she now has refugee status. Being an outsider has led to bouts of depression: “every negative thing, every all those things come in my mind.” But she is no longer afraid. “I can say whatever I want. I can raise my voice.” She now writes for Bild. “In the end, I’m very happy that I could fight and I’m safe now and I know what does freedom mean. Is mine, nobody cannot take it.” Hoping to change perceptions of refugees, she says, “I really want to be the journalist here in foreign language with this refugee background.”

Trigger Warning:

full interview

Can you describe what kind of housing do you live in? What’s the conditions?
Housing remains? What do you mean?

Where do you live? At home and?
In Berlin.  I live in Berlin, the area in Kreuzberg. It’s like Wohngemeinschaft (German shared apartment). Yeah. We live we are five people from five different nationalities.Yeah.

And how’s the condition there?
Living condition, you mean?

Mmhmm.
Yeah. It’s nice. Um, exactly what I always wanted. Very social life. We are not individual. We care. Everyone is even private life, private thing. And it’s very like, like home for me.

How do you spend your time here? What do you do in your routine?
Like I have full time job and you know, our job is like media and journalism. Actually, we don’t have really free time in my free time. Also, I get like a massages. My protagonist has something like this or my area is like, ah, Iran and uh, Saudi Arabia, human rights. So every time something happening and actually no official, no free time. But I do sometimes I meet like my friends from Bangladesh so that I can talk in Bangla. We can cook a little bit Bangladeshi food.  Otherwise Netflix, books, and meeting friends. Now is Corona, but before Corona I used to join several boardroom discussion events in Berlin. In Berlin, there is a lot of things demonstration so now changed. Yeah.

And how’s living in Europe?
From which perspective?

From your perspective.
It’s it’s like it’s very difficult to answer. Um, I must have a context because there is a thousand perspective thousand thinking how I live in Europe, you know, especially if you live in exile. It’s always the mood swings. And I would say it is very privilege to live in Europe. You know, you for for your everyday life, for your basic need. You don’t need to fight here. But I born in a totally different country, different atmosphere, different situation where I have to fight even for my basic needs. So if I compare, I would say it’s a very privileged life.  Other way as a refugee, as a woman of color, for someone from like a third country, Bangladesh, of course, lot of atmosphere and here the life, something makes you very small that you feel you’re small. you’re from a different country, very poor and third world country. So it’s, it’s mixed sometimes, as I say, that it’s freedom, what I always wanted and it’s also fight being women from from like Bangladesh and as a refugee.

And how does that make you feel like mentally?
If I talk about this discrimination and this a stereotypical thing being a refugee, I have also mixed feelings. Of course, it makes me time to time very small, uncomfortable, eh, lonely, but I’m very positive minded people, so I always try to use those things also for for my strength.Yes. Like if people see me, like “OK, she’s only refugee” I was I was use this thing in my context, like something brave. Yes, I am still refugee but I’m doing this this. I did lot than you. I suffered lot than you and I learn from my suffering, from my struggle. So it’s really mixed feelings. But of course it’s sometimes it makes you very dull, very down. And I had this sometimes the depression. It’s it’s take me like a few days to overcome it. And in this period, every negative thing, every all those things come in my mind. Then I’ll again fight. I can try to avoid these things and do my stuff. So it’s always up and down.

How do you cope with your depression?
Pfttt. I don’t know, I think I I try to when something happen, avoid it, which is not good, you know, then it comes again and again. It never goes. It’s always in your brain somewhere. Then in some point, it will just come and kick you and um, I think pft I just take then two or two days, very unproductive and laying down. Not not being social or sometimes just I try to just cook  heavy Bangladeshi food, like use food. I’m just cooking, cooking, cooking to fight my depression. So it depends and something I just started to paint, some sometimes doing nothing. So it’s still for me, not clear how I will handle my depression. So as I said, I think I’m not so good. I’m doing not so good with it. I think I should find a better thing and I’m searching for professional help. But, you know, it’s also a lot of energy to search your specific people, psychiatrist, and and um and explain your story. Then they will find someone. It’s a long process and it’s a lot of energy. If you’re depressed sometimes to give this energy and effort, it’s not easy.And I had already to psychiatrist and it wasn’t so happy. I think there is a huge gap to understand me. Someone from Barishal they are here. They’re a they’re white women. They understand. They know everything. They learn from book. But I just feel there is huge gap to understand my background. Then I skip. Now I’m trying to search again for professional help.

Uh, how does living in Europe made you I mean, have you changed?
What do you mean?

I mean something that you never done in Bangladesh, but you are now?
In like in general?

Mhmm.
Like something what I did here that I never did in Bangladesh, positive way, you mean? Anything.  Like a lot of things. A lot a lot of things I couldn’t do in Bangladesh that I could do here. The biggest thing, if I choose one, this is this is my freedom and without you can ride without fear. You know, when I came in Germany, there was, of course, a lot of cultural shock. And it was it was biggest thing.  When I started to write something for my Bangla blog and I realized that I’m not afraid. So writing without fear is it’s so privileged I realize. It’s so nice.And this thing I did, I do writing without fear. I can say whatever I want. I can raise my voice. I can do like these things for Bangladeshi people on social media that I couldn’t do in Bangladesh and also, mmm, yeah, there is also in my everyday life also a lot of things that, I don’t know- uh, smoking outside in bars. I couldn’t do as a women. I did, of course, as a demonstration protest. Then I had to face a lot of things. But it wasn’t easy as women smoking outside and here I can do whatever I want. Alcohol. Like this kind of thing in your everyday life. And in Bangladesh, I did a lot of things, but it wasn’t easy and without fear I could do in Europe. I mean, my freedom.

Uh. There were, uh, some situations that you thought that you don’t belong here, and how does that make you feel if it happened, not belonging?
Of course, there’s a lot of situation I faced when I felt that I don’t belong here. If these feelings, if some not only here from my childhood, that part I will tell you later, but especially, you know, my integration, my job, and everything is with Germans. I was the only person, uh, the only language course in the language course I had my old classmates from different nationalities. That was a difference later like my Ausbildung (German education for a particular job) And now where I work there is a 99 percent are German and  I had like to I did this Ausbildung when we are 18 young students and 17 were German, I was the only foreigner. Of course, their lifestyle ehh in their, of course, most of them are very privileged and time to time when you talk in lunch break or doing activities, I often I feel that I do not belong here and I work for a German media so we have to understand German reader, German mind, German taste and everything. And I didn’t born here. So of course I’m always the foreigner and the feeling myself also that I do not belong here.And especially these feelings came often when I was doing my Ausbildung. Because all white kids, you know, people as kids and I’m the only person and also I do not belong here. These feelings coming come here from my since my childhood. My mom used to says that you born in the wrong place at the wrong time because I was always the person who always against of something, my cultural things, a religious thing, all those rules as a woman, as a girl. I always used to refuse everything and ask question. And every time I felt that I’m the only person and I feel I’m just I have the problem and I don’t belong here. Yeah.

Uh, how did you came to Germany and why?
I came with flight- very privileged way. Um, it was like I never thought that I would leave, but we bloggers, I’m a blogger, so we young bloggers in Bangladesh started to write blogging and it went viral, took from 2013 when we made, um, demonstration. It was the biggest demonstration for for justice, for punishment, for highest punishment for war criminal. Then it went viral. Then we also talked about women’s rights, women’s rights, human rights and all those things. And as a blogger, then we people went viral. And it was the biggest thing in our history that time in 2013 and I started to write in blog fast. I, I started to write about my everyday experience, how I face everyday sexual violence in public transportation in Bangladesh. Then I start to write like these. Then I started to write Islam. And where is the conflict in Islam and feminism? What Islam says and if you’re a feminist, you should disagree or agree or things like I ask a question and I point out inQuran and so on. Of course, there is a lot of Islamist groups in Bangladesh. Bangladesh is not Islamic country, but majority are Muslim. And there are some radical Islamist groups that publish a hit list with bloggers name and they started to kill every month. One blogger, and it was started 2015 in February. First, they killed one of the famous, very famous American Bangladeshi blogger, and then next month, another one, next month another one. So we bloggers, we are trying to hide ourselves.  Some went to Nepal. And biggest story short then then I had no choice. I in the end then I got also my my case. My history was also published in some international media. Then I got also some focus. Amnesty International reporters with the border from Germany. They contacted me and the German embassy and they gave me immediate visa for one year and I just then immediately left.And the reason is, of course, political reason and my writing and that I could be killed that time any time, so I wanted to take time to think about it. Then I came in Germany, but I had no plan that I would stay here.

And how was your feeling at the moment that you didn’t get accepted because you asked questions and you are, you disagreed with people around you?
With these feelings I just I was fighting and done, when I was very young, even in 2013 14, I gave up. I thought, these people are like this because I was used to get like every day lot of death threats and rape threats on my Facebook. So I get used to these things that these people will not listen. And then when the blogger killing started, I had still hope because our government is so-called secular government. But there is no justice, nothing.Police didn’t arrest anyone, even police government. They are still saying that, yes, a blogger killing is not not good. Also writing like this, we’re questioning Islam is also not good. So I was pissed. I was like, there is nobody who supported me. No, there is very few people. Secular groups are from some people from Left-Wing Party. But very, we are just, we people like 50 or 100 people. But other majority like one hundred and sixty million people in Bangladesh, most of them, we are the most worst people ever being an atheist. In Bangladesh, maybe they will accept other people like, I don’t know, other minorities, Hindu, whatever, but being atheist, it’s a deadline. This this is  the border for them.So I was, of course, upset that people are so crazy and they just killing people because just because of questioning government and Islam and there’s are people are dying. But I was always very, very positive and I was never confused. I was never questioned myself.Maybe I’m doing wrong. I never I did. Do I had I had barely a life, support,  and I wasn’t that time also so internationally aware that what’s happening in the world is this this, you know, because of digitalization, you can get also you lot of ally and support. I was I was also only busy, my blog and my life in Bangladesh, but I was never confused. I was always sure that what we are doing, what we are writing, and breaking the taboo, this is good for our society.They are they are killing us now, maybe in 100 years in Bangladesh, they will remember us that we did something to establish a secular, secular movement in Bangladesh, secular life and safe life. So I was always confident that what I am doing, doing good. And of course, I was sad leaving my home country. I had planned a lot of planning project to doing this woman ,right things women group. We were doing a lot in Bangladesh before six months, I started a women group. We are ten women. We are learning like boxing, karate  because of the sexual harassment in bars. We had a lot of planning and I had good career. I started I was starting business, marketing and journalism and I was already bit famous, my face, my name in Bangladesh, and I was working for a daily newspaper in Bangladesh. So I had everything, you know, uh, but just because I cannot write without fear. This was so my basic need that I needed.I wanted and of course, also my life. My family was freaking out every day- “when we you leave? When will you leave”. You know, my mom really believe that I will die every time because the neighbor and other people, they went to my mom “I heard that your sister is your daughter is next”. So, uh, of course, it was sad, uh, but I had no choice if I had a choice, I wouldn’t leave Bangladesh.

What was your dream in Bangladesh?
I wanted to I always wanted to be a journalist, but as an activist I was I had also already platform and those things. So I was thinking more doing my career and also activism and involved in politics.Yeah.

And what’s your dream now?
Now? And as I said, I’m privileged here so I could do this Ausbildung and I think I’m the only person my language is, German is not my mother language, but I work for a German newspaper and for German readers. So I really, really want to, uh, be the journalist here, eh, in foreign language with this refugee background. Yeah.

It’s amazing, and if you want to tell something to European people who don’t understand us as refugees as uh, migrators. I don’t know what would you say?
If they do not understand, our background, uh, to European people. I mean, if there is only people, only conservative people will not understand our background, right? Eh people who want diversity and everybody will say now diversity, diversity for marketing, for peace, billboard advertisement all everywhere equally.

In Berlin?
Yeah, especially in Berlin. You see after this Black Lives Matter movement everywhere. Suddenly I thought “Is it suddenly everywhere a black person must be inn advertisement and everywhere?” Of course there is capitalism in everything, but it’s still good. Do it. We can use both each other, you know. Um, so that the society, the government, especially Germany, want established Germany, Netherlands, or France, they want to establish this picture that we are so diverse and Germany is. I think every every four or seven person has immigration background. So you cannot deny these things. If you deny these things, if you do not understand our background, then these people has problem, a real problem. They do not suit here.  Then they need the integration, not us. They need this. And yes, I would say to these people, they should open their eyes and they need to learn this now 2020, 21 is coming. This is a multicultural society. The future will be more multicultural with this realization and all those things. So better accept it. Otherwise, you guys will be super frustrated, you know. Yeah.

And, uh, does COVID-19 impact your life in any way?
I like really for my job to meet my protagonist , you know to talk. And I do this report hard at things and, you know, you was in this area for reportage. You really need just don’t need that information. What happened with this person? You also need to read the person- body language, expression, and feel him or her comfortable. And most of the stories reported, I do also people would refuse a background ex-Muslims. So I really want to be there, but because of COVID, you know,  you couldn’t we could do is still a journalist to travel, but it was from our office. If it’s highly important then and I also want to respect all the Corona rules because of my traveling, I don’t want to risk anything but otherwise I was very lucky in this in this COVID- era in Berlin because I finished my Ausbildung. Then I got this contract from Bild and whatever Bild is they have really the pay well, and this freedom. You can choose your topic and you can go whenever you want. And I do only this human rights things. And I’m very happy this. I bring those topics for the biggest German media and they were not so, this content humorous content are not so important for Bild now and the only responsible for those topics. So I’m very happy with it because for me, my readers are important,especially these conservative readers. You know, it has, and otherwise, I think in my personal life it impacted. I was more depressed because of maybe COVID COVID. So I was more isolated because of COVID and Massnahmen (German restrictions) restrictions. So I was, last six months I was I was fighting more with my depression. It was so difficult still  .  Um, I was more down because of COVID, and and and then I missed one of the biggest chance in my life to visit Israel and Bangladesh. And Israel has no diplomatic relationship, even in our positive situation, you can travel the whole world except Israel so, so strong So from from our Ausbildung. It’s a traditional, traditional travel. In the end, we go to Israel, we spend one week there and we get our certificates and everything in Israel. So before I started this Ausbildung, of course, I was excited for many reason and this was one of the historical because I would be maybe the second Bangladeshi person who could visit Israel. And because antisemitism is huge in Bangladesh, even we learned in high school, you know, so from this perspective, political reason, it was very special and for me. But of course, I couldn’t. We couldn’t do it because of COVID. Otherwise, financially, I didn’t impact me. Everything was fine. And now.

I actually ask all of them, all of my questions, but I realize you talked about your childhood, that you had that feeling of not belonging, right?
I had also as I said, I was always the the person like in Bangladesh. I had a really unusual family. We are we grew up me, my sister. She’s five years older than me and my young mom. She was also a victim of child marriage. So our father left us. My mom is uneducated, a beautiful young teenage woman. When my sister born, when she was 18, you know? And so we had to struggle a lot. It’s not like Europe being single mother is OK. But there it’s not only it’s OK it’s a shame. The society, the culture, even the system, it’s the biggest shame. So there so we had to hide it as a child. We learn if people ask  “Where is your father?” We will lie. Every time I was the kid with secret. I was always afraid.You know, if you’re your kid and if you have a big secret, you will not feel comfortable to talk and hang out with your friends because you have a secret. If I talk too much, maybe they will know about my secret. It’s a shame. So we learned that it’s the biggest shame, we have to hide it. So it’s a huge journey. We had to struggle with these things and we had to always like this month, my uncle will give us money. This month, this person will give us money, like our whole childhood was like this. Me and my sister and my mom. So it’s already unusual, and I was the THE kid , you know, always against something in the school, you know, when I class four, and we will go to class five and now we have extra scarf. And I see our boys, they do not need to wear the full jeans. They are okay with half and short. And as women, I just have to get extra and in Bangladesh is really hot. So I ask, why should I get these things? And my mom said you’re woman, this this this and excuses. And I always was the, I refuse all those things and I was always the bad kid, bad girl, bad woman. My whole life, teenager life in this school, in the college, in the university, because I was always against of these things. I can stop this all this shit. And and yeah, that’s why I always feel that I do not belong anywhere. But of course these bad women, bad girl things that have made me of course frustrated that everyone sees me like this is it my problem? But in my inside I feel that I am doing right. This is me.  But now if I see this period in my life, I’m very proud to be the bad girl, you know, to be the bitch how our society thinks because we are against all of these things particularly and you think you are the bitch we are proud to be. And that’s why my journey, it was and never easy. There is no part that was ready for me.As a kid, I saw other kids, my my classmates, they they had this normal life, you know, normal family but I had never nothing normal- childhood, teenage life, this society, then came here. Yeah.

And all the difficulties you’ve been through made you stronger person or did you grow with it?
Of course. Of course. I learn whenever I see, you know, here with privileged life.Most of my friends, I have lots of friend with refugee background, immigration background, but I have also white friends born here. But maybe I’m the only one not that any European country. And when they talk their life, they’re amazing. But I feel sometimes people really learn from  a struggle. This experience you will never get from even if you do PhD. This is different. And your eyes and experience people learn from  a struggle and from every struggle, everything. I learn- everything. And of course, it makes me sometimes also sad. Like sometimes I think, well, I could have maybe also normal life. Now I see on my Facebook my friends getting marriage – like, getting kids- like, wedding picture- likes. Those very normal with family and food. You know, my two year anniversary, or six months, um, my kid born those things, all those things. This is also life, you know. And sometimes I say “Well, is it something that I wanted”? And I am the person always that I would miss always. I thought, ok, I’m not sure from this this. So that makes me also, of course sad, that being in exile, maybe I could be this normal kid, normal life. But I’m sure this is also not not my thing. I wouldn’t be happy with these things.I didn’t born you know, I just I was I tell my mom and my sister that when whenever we fight, that I was fighting even before I born, because when my mom was pregnant, my father sent her to hospital to abort me and she went to the hospital and accidentally she couldn’t make it and she was sick. Then she went, my aunt came. She took her at her place. She stayed there a few weeks. Then she got Valium. She couldn’t abort me.And so I was fighting before I born, even when I born there is I asked my mom, last month, on my last birthday, how was the atmosphere? You know, and she said, I born in my grandpa, my father, my mom’s parent’s place in the village. And they said there is no there was the atmosphere like someone here had died. There I said is there anyone that she or he was happy and she was thinking no. Because of what? Because she has she’s only a woman. Her her husband sometimes just come and sometimes disappear. And she has a daughter and no, again, daughter and my father don’t wanted me. And now this is a girl kid. So this is for everyone shocking that while the future is dark, everyone is like my aunt was crying that what will happen with these two kids this woman. There’s nobody left. And yeah. Sorry why I just tell you that, I don’t know. But yes. So I just wanted to give small impression that nothing was easy, nothing was really for me.

Is there anything you want to add?
Um. Uh, this this project that 1000 refugee stories will change the, I wanted to ask something I forgot. Mm hmm. No.

No?
No.

OK.
But this freedom, you know, people when people had to fight for freedom and when get it, the test of freedom is different. If you have this privilege where you will never know. You will never know what does it mean, you know? So I always think that. What does it mean? Freedom to you? To everyone.I talk to my friend, you know, but I think if you have to fight for this freedom, the test is different. And they’re saying I’m so happy. All those who struggle, all this blood, and dead bodies even, and all those threats. Um, in the end, I’m very happy that I could fight and I’m safe now and I know what does freedom mean. Is mine, nobody cannot take it, you know?Yeah.

That’s beautiful.

Many 1000 Dreams interviews were not conducted in english. Their translation has not always been performed by professional translators. Despite great efforts to ensure accuracy, there may be errors.