Thursday, December 10, 2015

Debo's Story

This is a plea to anyone who sees this. Please choose compassion over fear, understanding over intolerance, and empathy over hatred. I do understand fear, but please do not reject an entire race or religion because of the very bad apples. Find and read stories of individual refugees and families, and compare them to your own story, your children's lives, and your parents. Try to imagine in their place you and your children, siblings, parents, nieces, nephews, and cousins - having to choose between abandoning your home and fleeing for your life or staying put and being killed or forced into service for an evil army because you weren't lucky enough to be born in America.

I'm not asking you to donate money, and I'm not asking you to get physically involved and help. I'm only asking that you not publicly reject or applaud the rejection of fellow human beings who are not so different from you - young people who want to study and find good jobs to support their families, parents who want their children to live in safety and be able to walk to and from school without fear of being killed by bombs or rockets, people who don't want to be forced to serve a corrupt government or a terrorist organization.

In our local newspaper the other day there was an article about a young man who fled his war-torn homeland after imprisonment and brutal abuse and made his way to Germany. With the editor's permission, here is my translation and summary of that article.

The real brutality of the civil war in Syria, which began in 2011, is not shown on TV in the interest of piety. Persecuted and in constant mortal danger, injured and traumatized, millions of Syrians have fled their homeland with nothing but the clothes on their backs and precious few worldly possessions to escape the violence and destruction. The journey itself is dangerous as well and arduous, but leaving their homes was the less awful of two unacceptable choices.

Abdulkalik Debo is one of these millions, and since October he has been living in the town of Weitingen, not far from Horb. Though he is only 19 years old (one year younger than my son), he has witnessed atrocities most people his age will never know.

Debo (because his last name is short and easy to pronounce, everyone calls him that) was born in the northern Syrian city of Aleppo, where he also attended a school which has since been destroyed by bombs. Aleppo is the second largest city in Syria and was named the "Capital of Islamic Culture" in 2006. Its old town was ranked a Unesco World Heritage Site. Since then the city has been mostly destroyed, especially the quarter in which the rebels fighting against Assad have hunkered in.

in Aleppo
One day several years ago the war came to the Debo family with their six children. One of Debo's cousins was severely injured by shrapnel from a rocket attack on his way to school. Debo (15 at the time) and a friend called for a taxi to take his cousin to the hospital. They were sent from one hospital to another because the injuries were too severe for regular care - eventually they ended up at the university clinic. During the drive they complained about the Assad regime and the brutality of his troops and the militia, not knowing that the taxi driver was an Assad supporter. He reported these teenagers, and the friends were arrested and turned over to the security police. Debo didn't have his i.d. papers with him and resisted being "recruited" by the government troops - he was much too young anyway, but he looked older because of his strong build and growing beard. His parents were summoned because the police didn't believe his reported age.

Debo was kept under arrest with 200 other prisoners in a room so small that it was impossible for anyone to lie down. They could only lean on each other, half sitting and half collapsed, and sleeping was impossible. During his parents' interrogation Debo was handcuffed and forced to kneel with a sack over his head in the next room. He could hear his parents, but they did not know he was so close. Remember, he was 15 years old.

During the time of his imprisonment Debo - like all the other prisoners - was badly abused, frequently beaten with clubs, kicked with combat boots, and burned. There was very little to eat. Debo doesn't remember anymore how long he had to endure these conditions.

On the day of the massacre in 2013, in which 200 opponents of Assad who had had high hopes about the "Arab Spring" revolution were murdered, Debo should have been among the dead. He remembers the day. Groups of prisoners were marched outside and one by one slaughtered with meat knives or shot when they refused to recognize Assad as their "god". By the time it was  Debo's turn, blood was already flowing through the yard like a river. A soldier shouted at him, and Debo answered, "My god is Allah." He was stabbed and beaten like the others and lost consciousness. His body was tossed into the nearby riverbed, where several kurdish villagers found him a short time later. Debo was one of four men they found still alive. He only regained consciousness a few days later in the villagers' home.

When he had recovered somewhat, he wanted to return home as quickly as possible. But no one was there. His family's house was partially destroyed and the home of his brother and his wife and child was deserted. Then the next shock. A neighbor told him those of his family who were still alive had all fled to Turkey and thought Debo was dead. Two of his siblings (ages 24 and 26) were killed when the house was destroyed, and Debo's twin brother was killed by a rocket on his way to a shopping center.

Debo made his way to the container camp just over the border with several thousand other refugees, where he was able to find the surviving members of his family. They hadn't heard from him in five months and had assumed he'd been killed. When his mother first laid eyes on him she fainted. She hardly recognized him - he'd lost 125 pounds (56 kg) during his ordeal and now weighed only 132 pounds(60 kg).

The family was able to stay together for two years, and even grew by one when a granddaughter was born. Debo found work as a specialist repairing mobile phones and was able to save enough to get to Germany - a journey that cost several thousand Euros.

His mother has suffered from the whole ordeal and has health and heart problems. Debo himself still suffers from the trauma and wakes frequently from horrible nightmares. Because of the physical abuse he has stomach problems and difficulty keeping his balance.

They are safe now, but because the family arrived in Germany at different times, they were separated and sent to different housing facilities in opposite ends of Germany. His parents and remaining siblings are near Flensburg in the north.

Debo will be allowed to visit the rest of his family for ten days over the Christmas holidays. In the mean time Debo is learning German and hoping to eventually work as a medical devices technician.

refugees from Syria and Eritrea learning German
One of these men was one test away from finishing his higher education and medical degree
when his university shut down. Now he's in Germany learning German and basically starting over.

Please have compassion. And perhaps speak up in the name of mercy when people around you rage against offering shelter to those who are fleeing from war, corruption, violence and terrorism.

We are all members of the human race, and we have more similarities to each other than differences.

1 comment:

  1. Well said. We all want peace and stability and a loving family life.