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Happy Birthday!

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It is Tahir’s birthday today! It is bittersweet this year. He is detention - and it is a hardly any reason for celebration, or being happy - especially when taking to consideration that he is punished for daring to run for his life. Then, the wonderful news is that it is his birthday before he officially becomes the resident of Canada and has a chance to re-start his life as a resident with rights and obligations and without a fear of being harassed and intimidated by authorities or police! The sweet part of the ‘bittersweet’ is much more worth of concentrating on! Happy Birthday, Tahir! May it somehow still be a great day - even if behind the bars, and may you have a wonderful year ahead of you - in the new country, with tonnes of new friends, great opportunities and exciting adventures! HAPPY BIRTHDAY!

It is still 18 days to go to Tahir’s departure to Toronto. Considering the circumstances, Tahir is okay. Many of us here in Bangkok have a chance to communicate with him daily. He seems cheerful and in good spirit, even if he is a bit tired due to sleep depravation (there is no enough space for everyone to sleep comfortable, so inmates need to take turns to sleep for a few hours, and then make space for other people to sleep). The inmates are friendly and they all spend their time by playing cards, and watching TV. They occasionally have a chance to exercise a little and play soccer at the IDC’s yard.

With regards to actual preparations for his departure to Canada, we are pretty much ready. Clothes and basic stuff to get him started in the new country is bought, and ready to be delivered to the airport, when he eventually goes in the middle of August. Tahir is also receiving his official 'Canada Orientation’ briefings that are delivered to him at the detention centre by the International Organisation of Migration (IOM) on behalf of the Embassy of Canada to Thailand. 

Four days of detention

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Tahir, minutes before being detained at Bangkok’s Immigration Detention Centre (IDC)

Tahir has been in detention already for 4 days. Last Saturday, he went to court and was sentenced by the Thai authorities for being an ‘illegal’ migrant, and now is waiting for his ‘deportation’ to Canada. 

It is one of the most stressful time that I have recently experienced, but I also have to say that things are not as traumatic (at least for a time being) as I expected them to be. We do have some contact with him, and we gather that although the conditions at the IDC are horrible (by any standards), the inmates that he is with are allegedly friendly and kind people. They all seem to supporting one another, and there are little signs of abuse happening. 

So things are horrible, but Tahir seems to be hanging on well. Please keep your fingers crossed, as we wait for his departure from the country. 

Boys cry

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There is an old and famous Polish comedy by Olaf Lubaszenko titled ‘Boys do not cry’. As you can easily imagine, the movie suggests that men are meant to be tough, no matter what happens in life…

I have to admit, I, and Tahir for that matter, may have been a little emotional recently. Success with Tahir’s resettlement visa for Canada, confronted us with a situation, when we needed to say goodbye to each other. Although Tahir is not scheduled to travel to Toronto until 15th August, yesterday, he needed to turn himself in to Bangkok’s immigration detention centre (IDC). Refugees in Thailand are not recognised by the authorities, and despite a fact that the United Nations encourages countries to extend protection to people such as Tahir (being recognised as UNHCR refugees), Thailand chooses to treat refugees as illegal migrants (since they do not possess valid visas to stay in the country). A part of being an illegal migrant in Thailand implies that one can not leave the country without being officially punished. The consequences are severe: high financial fine, and an obligatory detention (3 weeks), and eventual ban from returning to the country for at least five years. Bottom line, for Tahir it means that before being allowed to reach his free life in Canada, he needs to serve his imprisonment - however cruel this sounds. So with a heavy heart, and with the feeling of gross abuse of justice and fairness, Tahir had been saying his good byes to all of us, just before reporting to the IDC in Bangkok, so he could start his last piece of ordeal before he is allowed to be set free. Although I am revolting, I will not explain why I consider his (and not only his) detention to be grossly unfair. Instead, I would rather reflect on the amazing friendship I received from Tahir within last 4 years. 

We are both perfectly different in so many ways. Tahir coming from one of the most disadvantaged parts of the Pakistani society - disadvantaged to the point of being oppressed. Oppressed to the point of needing to run away from Pakistan for his life, as many wanted to kill him for being born to a religion that they did not like. His disadvantaged status has also had another major impact on his life: lack of education. He only graduated from 4 years of primary school - the rest of his schooling was not possible, as his family needed to flee from the place where they used to live and go to hiding from people that wanted to harm them. As time passed, Tahir’s life continues to be filled with examples of suffering and humiliation - including, his most recent years in Thailand. His arrival to Bangkok, in search of safety, cost him a great deal of a sacrifice. During first years of his stay in the country, Tahir fell prey of being a victim of slavery; beatings and severe abuse; humiliation from criminals, police, or even regular residents that treated him poorly; fear of being detained and being sent back to Pakistan; hunger and malnutrition; fear of not knowing what the future may bring for him; fear of not being able to live a fulfilled life - ever; and fear that his life is doomed, and worse so, a conviction that he does not deserve any better, merely because he is ‘a worthless Ahmaddyia from Pakistan’ - a trait that he obviously thought he would not be able to overcome.

On the other hand, there is me… over-privileged, white male, with fantastic education, great career, amazing lifestyle, being able to travel the world, and receiving an automatic recognition of ‘being trustworthy’ simply because of my ‘status’, my EU passport, my skin colour… and other advantages that I have not really earned - but received by being born into the society and the country where I come from. Yes, I may have got some hurdles in my life; yes, I may have even worked very hard… However my issues have been always been solvable, and I have never ever needed to worry about my very existence. 

Then we, the two very different people, met. Two people of completely different experiences, nationalities, background, culture, using different languages, having different approaches to religion, one being young, the other one being middle aged… met. A strike of luck, a pure coincident, caused that we happened to be in the same place. One was on the street begging; the other one was in a restaurant overlooking the very same street. One was full of despair, hungry and seemingly hopeless; the other one was enjoying his favourite shrimps and soda water with lime, planning his next overseas holidays… One was poor; the other one was affluent. Against the odds, these two started talking, and against the odds they continued talking for these years! Yes, Tahir has become my best friend and he is the best friend I have ever had, and possibly, I will ever have. Our friendship has become so special that some people even assumed and speculated that we may be a romantic couple! 

I am not sure what and why things happened as they have. All what I know however, is that Tahir challenged me, challenged my values to the very core… He made me realise my arrogance, and my privileges in very practical ways. Before meeting Tahir, I might have been aware of my lucky life and how unfair the world around me was, but in all honesty, this realisation was very theoretical and non-threatening to my safety zone. Meeting him changed a lot in my life. Slowly, patiently and gradually, Tahir started teaching me how to slow down; to appreciate small moments; to appreciate what I have; to notice other people around me and appreciate their ways of perceiving the world. Tahir also taught me to be less scared and less judgemental of the others, who may be different from me or from the people that I considered as my friends. Importantly he taught me to trust, trust others, and trust them against the odds. He also taught me that it is absolutely okay to be hurt, and it is okay to be cheated by others: he taught me that it was better to give credit of trust to those around you, and possibly get disappointed, rather than allowing your fears win over you, and potentially overlooking wonderful moments with fellow humans. 

Now, my best teacher has left my life in Thailand, and is preparing for his freedom in Canada. When we talked to each other for the last time, hours before his detention, we were both clearly moved and emotional. This is when Tahir told me that he was very grateful to have met me, and that he did not know how he could thank me for giving him a new life. Yet it is me, who owes my life to him, at least - if not more, in the same way that he thinks that he owes his life to me. Just like you, I do not know how to thank you, Tahir, for all what you have done and you are doing to me. I am the luckiest person on earth to have met you and I will always be grateful for looking after me, for being my teacher and for being such a kind person to me. I am thrilled of the opportunities, the future may bring to you, and I just hope that the last difficult experience that the Thai authorities have prepared for you will not be too difficult to handle. Thank you, my friend. I will miss your company dearly!

And who says that boys do not cry?


Last weekend with Tahir in Bangkok

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Although Tahir will travel to Toronto only on 15th August, it is already my last weekend with him here in Bangkok. On 19th July, Tahir will need to report to the Thai Immigration Detention Centre (IDC), which is (sadly) a part of the procedure before the resettlement to Canada. Refugees, even if recognised by UNHCR, and in Tahir’s case Canada are considered to be illegal in the country, and the law says that they need to be punished/detained before they are allowed to leave the country. This is an extremely humiliating procedure, but there is no way around it, so I will not write more about it, as it makes very sad - and I think that it is not worth spoiling our joy of the weekend together, and the joy that Tahir will soon be free in his new country! We are going to celebrate by making short excursions in and around Bangkok - to places, which Tahir likes! Tonight, we are also going to visit our dear friend for a dinner, who decided to treat us as a form of ‘farewell’ to him! It will be fun and good day!

On Monday, I am travelling to Jakarta in Indonesia for two days, where I am going to be participating in discussions over future of urban refugees in the country. Discussions will be held with UNHCR, but also members of civil society, NGOs, UN agencies, diplomatic community and members of the Indonesian Government. I am quite looking forward to it, and hope that we will be able to advocate that refugees and people in need of international protection should not be seen as burden, but given care and attention so that they can thrive and become independent fast. Keep your fingers crossed, so that the conversations go well. 

I will be back to Bangkok on Wednesday, say hello to Tahir again, and prepare for a trip to Bangladesh, where I am going to go on Thursday for 2 weeks. As in previous months, my trip to Dhaka is related to supporting our humanitarian response to the Rohingya crisis. It is also, when I am in Bangladesh, Tahir will go to the detention centre… It will be hard not to be with him, but then, I have managed to arrange a widespread support for him (from many of our friends) who will be visiting him daily, when I am not here. 

I should be back to Bangkok at the end of July, and the plan is that I will be both visiting Tahir in the IDC (until he leaves), and also bid him a farewell at the airport on 15th August!

Next 5 weeks will be definitely stressful and lots of changes will happen around here. A good thing is that all the changes are for the best, at the end, and this keeps me happy and going. In any case, keep your fingers crossed for the time to fly fast! ;)

Tahir is going to Canada soon!

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Dear Friends: 

 

I have been dreaming to be able to write this email for so many years… Now, the dream is becoming a reality. Tahir has been granted his refugee resettlement visa, and he will be travelling to Canada 15th August (provisional date of his flight ticket). 

 

There are so many of you that made this joyful day possible to arrive. We would like to thank you for being a part of this amazingly difficult but also enjoyable journey for everything that you have done. We would not be able to get here (really mean it), had it not be for your support. While there are so many things that you have done for both of us, I would like to list just a things for what we are we are grateful (so you realise how much you have done): 

 

  • Continuous support and belief of my mum and dad and reassuring me that supporting Tahir in his efforts of becoming a free person is the only right thing to do!
  • Continuous support of Tahir’s parents in Pakistan for showing trust in me, and supporting us in in the ways that they could in their circumstances. Very grateful for continuous prayers and best wishes that they offered for the cause, for Tahir and for me!
  • Continuous support of our multiple Thai and foreign friends living in Thailand, for trying to find ways to make Tahir’s life a bit safer and more bearable and for giving us encouragement when things were very low and depressing!
  • Wonderful support of friends in Pakistan for showing Tahir that not everyone in Pakistan is against the Ahmadis and that there are many, many wonderful people in Pakistan, who oppose hatred! A special and big, big thank you goes to my Pakistani friend, whom I used to work in my organisation for helping us arranging practical things that we needed to deal with in Pakistan (and our eternal gratitude for helping Tahir’s mum in need)!
  • Amazing Ahmadiyya friends/refugees in Bangkok for giving us advice on how to lead a life of a refugee in Bangkok safely, how to overcome the injustice with a smile and for teaching me humility that there are always things that one can do to make things a bit better!
  • Continuous support from refugee professionals in Thailand for giving us advice on how to keep Tahir safer and preparing us for interviews, helping us with applications, etc…
  • Amazing support from our Australian friends for doing an incredible work in trying to resettle Tahir to Australia. Australia may not have worked out for him, but your determination and amazing commitment filled us with hope, and love. A big, big and special thank you goes to our special friend, whom I used to work with and who did not hesitate to offer her unconditional help, the moment that we thought there was a slim opportunity to bring Tahir to the country. We may not have succeeded, but we will never forget all the wonderful passion and encouragement!
  • Amazing support from our Polish friends for doing exactly the same as our Australian friends tried doing – with a very, very special thank you going to the Catholic nun, who decided to stand for Tahir and advocate for him in front of various institutions; to the amazing lawyer from Warsaw, who tried helping us overcoming legal hurdles in whatever way he could (free of charge), to journalists of Wiez magazine, who made Tahir’s case being known to the people of Poland and for believing in us until the end; to many friends that proved that overwhelming anti-refugee paranoia in Poland  is far from being universal!
  • Support and commitment from our Swiss friends (especially one family), who decided trying sponsoring him to come to Switzerland and supported us throughout the process. It did prove too difficult to get Tahir to Switzerland, but we are grateful for your compassion and support!
  • Continuous and amazing support of my colleagues and friends in my own organisation. I can’t express enough how grateful I am for you bearing with me, listening to me when I was low when I was stressed, for making me smile, for helping me arranging my professional life in a way that I could still look after and support Tahir throughout all these years. 
  • Continuous support of hundreds (I mean hundreds) friends globally for helping us meeting financial needs for lodging Tahir’s application to Canada, for continuously expressing your solidarity in multiple ways, for not giving up on us, for giving us advice, for visiting us here in Thailand and making us feel appreciated and supported!
  • Finally, a very, very big THANK YOU goes to our multiple friends in Canada! I can’t express how profoundly grateful we are to our Tahir’s application sponsors – 3 wonderful couples, who did not hesitate creating the legal entity/group (called Group of Five) that has been responsible for piloting Tahir’s case in front of Canadian authorities and took the responsibility to look after his well-being when he finally reaches Toronto. You have been instrumental in making this dream of making Tahir a free human being come true! A big, THANK YOU goes to Tahir’s teacher – who has worked with him for nearly a year now – preparing Tahir (over Skype) for his arrival to the country (teaching him English, helping him grasping Canada’s culture, and the country’s peculiarities). 

 

As his departure from Thailand is slowly becoming a reality, I can’t resist reflecting about all these things that have happened within last four years. If there is anything more that I can write is that I am sure that Tahir will be a great resident of Canada and I think that Canada is lucky having him, the same way as he is lucky to go to Canada. I know that when he is allowed to walk free, he will do all what he can to contribute in making our world a little better for all of us! Things will still be tough and difficult for him, we know it – but I am sure that he will just do great. Once again, thank you ALL for making it possible!

 

Sending you all warmest regards and hugs,

Roman (and Tahir)

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