Written by Seza Kirishdjian
Middle East & North Africa Programme Officer, International Detention Coalition (IDC)
He held baby Amina in his arms, in a firm grip. Fully aware of the uncertainty of his own future but with the hope that a local family would come forward to care for her, love her and protect her, the way he had cared for her during the past few months. Even though she was not his own child, he had provided her with shelter and protection. In fact, he was just hoping that Amina be treated the way every child in the world should be treated. All this man was asking for, was that someone would extend a ray of hope to her, one that he no longer had.
Amina’s story was a familiar one to me. Her father had disappeared in his home country, in the Horn of Africa, before her mother took Amina and embarked on their journey to the Middle East. They risked trafficking and exploitation on their way towards an unknown destination and an insecure future. Amina’s mother had then passed away, leaving little Amina behind with her neighbour in the country that she had been trying to make a new life in. Although this neighbour was an asylum seeker in an insecure situation himself, he had promised to take care of the young girl. This kind neighbour was the man I was interviewing.
It is in their customs and traditions. Hospitality is a cultural trait they take pride in, they can’t turn this child away. I am sure someone will take care of her.
He uttered these words, with a strong belief in the kindness and generosity of the people in the Middle Eastern country from which he was to be deported for having his asylum claim rejected. Unfortunately, he could not offer little Amina the permanent care and protection that she deserved.
For the past six years, I was interviewing asylum seekers in different countries across the Middle East and North Africa region as part of my work. Each day, a new person or family. New faces and stories, similar to those of Amina’s. The stories always had a common denominator; separation from loved ones and families left behind in their country of origin. For adults, this proved to be difficult enough, as they struggled to make ends meet in a new country and a challenging environment. Sometimes the symptoms of prolonged exposure to toxic stress were evident. For children in particular, though this high level of insecurity proved to have very detrimental consequences and left them at heightened risk of exploitation and abuse.
Growing up in the Middle East, I have always taken pride in the hospitality and generosity of the people who took my great grandparents in when they were children and forcibly displaced from their homes in Eastern Anatolia at the dawn of the 20th century. It comes to me with no surprise that the same people would continue to open their doors and host vulnerable migrants even though times are difficult for them too.
We are taught from a young age that the real heroes in life are those who take a chance, who dare to be different and produce a change in a system that seems ever so rigid.
The real heroes are those host families and individuals who, despite their own challenges and the increasingly impossible life in recessive economies in the region, are willing to provide alternative care for refugee and migrant children and vulnerable adults.
Community hosting is in no way a new concept to the region. There is enough precedent that it is proving to be a practical and productive alternative to detention, that gives us hope for the future. Just like Amina, most of the children and vulnerable adults on the move whom I interviewed, would sadly never return to their homes. Very few of them, if any, will ever be lucky enough to be reunited with their families.
It is for this reason that the IDC gives paramount importance to supporting and reporting on alternatives to detention.
The increased phenomenon of community hosting in the MENA region is a ray of hope extended to some of the most vulnerable migrants in the world today.
Stay tuned for more in this series on community hosting in the MENA region, as we begin to collect and share more stories from those in the know, the real heroes, the families who are currently hosting refugee and migrant children and vulnerable adults.