It took me a while to process the end of an eight year fight with the Swedish asylum agency and getting a paper that one day might put an end to my statelessness.Before I share my story with you, I would like to start with Kehlani’s words:
“My condolences to anyone who has ever lost me
And to anyone who got lost in me or to anyone
Who ever felt they took a loss with me
For the misunderstanding
Or the lack thereof”
I was 22 when I arrived in Sweden. I am 30 now. It took me eight years to get my refugee status recognized. I would love to tell everyone who congratulated me that I am not a fearless, courageous, selfless warrior. I am not a queen of resilience. The truth is I am a rootless tree in exile: I inherited a stateless refugee status in 1992 and have been jumping from one status to another since then, expressing myself in any language but my own!
The 26th of April 2022 was a normal day. I was working from home and had a meeting at 15:00. A few minutes into the meeting, I looked at my phone and saw an email from my lawyer with the subject “Positiv dom” - which means a positive decision... I jumped out of my chair! I forgot what I told my colleagues before getting off the meeting. I read the email once... twice... ten times…!
‘The court made a decision in our favor’, the lawyer wrote. ‘But we have to wait and see if the Migration Agency will appeal.’
But still! It was a positive decision from the court! That’s huge! That’s rare! I called my mom and the rest of the family on WhatsApp with confusion and tears in my eyes, telling them it is done! We “kinda” won!
I saw their joy and heard them crying. But why did I feel so empty inside? Why did I mostly feel anger? Why did I feel defeated more than victorious? Why did I feel like a deceiver thanking my friends when they threw me a surprise party to celebrate the great news, telling them that I am so grateful I have them and I would have not made it without their support? Even though I meant it, it just didn’t feel real. Why am I so bitter?!
Two weeks after receiving the official decision from the Migration Agency, I applied and received my travel document. My alien’s travel documents: it is brown, it looks like a passport with the phrase: “Travel Document Convention of 28 July 1951”. I look so pretty in the picture. Pretty and disappointed. There are birds flying on the document's pages - representing freedom? Is that it? Am I free now? Can I choose where I want to go and where I want to live? Am I a citizen of the world now? What about Karim and Jana? My siblings who we left behind hoping that my dad would be able to do a family reunion once we arrived in Sweden. They are adults now, stuck in a place where people are dehumanized, where there’s electricity for two hours a day and the air is so polluted it is killing people slowly. Will they ever have the chance to leave? To have the freedom of choice? Was this shame I felt looking at my travel document what people call survival guilt?
You fought hard for this Lynn, I tell myself.
We will figure a way out and fight for those who were left behind, I say.
I was 22 when I arrived here; now I am soon 30, I tell myself. Be angry but don’t be bitter, I tell myself.
30 is a good age to start over. Use the anger as fuel; do the work. It is not time to burn out, not just yet.
A few days after I got my travel document, I received an invitation from the University of Konstanz to take part in a workshop on statelessness on the 10th of July - the day I turn 30!
I was filled with joy and answered right away that I would definitely come; writing that it will be my first official and legal travel and that it will be my birthday! The flight there was a roller coaster of emotions. Traveling has always been a hassle and a trigger for me, forcing me to remember my feelings when I traveled to Sweden. However, Konstanz was amazing and the workshop was a success. Yet, something got stuck deep in my head.
As part of the workshop, we read and analysed Hannah Arendt’s essay “We refugees”. In her essay, Arendt mentions Mr. Cohn and his emigration from Germany. Mr. Cohn, who was Jewish had always felt 150% German, became a Czech patriot, then an Austrian patriot, then a French one and so on... Arendt talks about how Mr. Cohn acquired a great skill in wishful thinking. I went on reading her harsh words about Mr. Cohn: “Nobody can foretell all the mad changes he will still have to go through. A man who wants to lose his self discovers, indeed, the possibilities of human existence, which are infinite, as infinite as is creation. But the recovering from a new personality is as difficult – and as hopeless – as a new creation of the world. Whatever we do, whatever we pretend to be, we reveal nothing but our insane desire to be changed… we don’t want to be refugees.”
While the others were analysing her words and analysing Mr. Cohn with sarcasm in their voices, pitying him, I saw myself in Mr. Cohn - I am Mr. Cohn! I felt like I needed to say something, to defend him and his wishful thinking! I remembered all the times Swedish people would tell me, “But Lynn, you are more Swedish than I am!” “Oh! Lynn, they are deporting you! There is no one that deserves to be in this country more than you!” I remembered the times people praised my Swedish and my accent, saying they could barely tell that I have been living in the country for less than eight years. Did I try too much? Was I that desperate to fit in? Did I Swede-wash myself?
I sat there feeling sorry for myself and for Mr. Cohn. Was it really out of desperation that we did so well in blending in? Or is it simply because we wanted a place and a community to belong to - without getting the fact that we are refugees rubbed in our face every now and then? When I say “we in Sweden” and include myself, it doesn’t mean that I forgot the place I came from or the fact that I was born a refugee. I’m empowering myself to choose! I am whoever I want to be, and in my state of less I can sometimes choose which state to include myself in... I was 22 years old when I came to Sweden. Today, I am 30 and when I was preparing a playlist for my birthday party that was 70% Swedish punk and pop and 20% English glam, I made sure to leave a 10% for some Arabic “Heshtik beshtik music” as I call it, just an assurance to myself that I am not completely Swedish-washed, that my identity doesn’t need to be picked from one place and defined by one reality or event.
Leaving my 20ies was one of the hardest things I have been through. My 20ies that I spent in a suitcase moving from one place to another, waiting to unpack. I thought that getting my status recognized and residency in Sweden would be the first step - a necessary first step to unpack and find a soil to root myself in. But instead, it brought all the feelings I have bottled up inside for years to the surface . The strong, resilient Lynn is no longer who I am. I had been vulnerable because of my status. Today, my vulnerability is based on my humanity. Being a human was something I didn’t allow myself to be. I didn’t allow myself to- be tired and scared, to miss my mom, wishing she was there by my side all those years! I used irony and humor to cover it all up. Invisible me, superhuman me! But I was not! And no one should feel such pressure. I was doing my best to survive. We were all doing our best to survive. The system will not protect people like us if they burn out. If I stop for a second to catch my breath, I will have to start all over again, because the god forsaken baggage of being a refugee will always be a part of who I am - even though I am way, way more than a refugee. I did my best and I still am. I will still be attending conferences with high profile people, telling them we need to push governments to make a change, no matter how many times I’ll be told to watch my language, to be more diplomatic. “We don’t use the word push young lady, we understand your frustration but here we use words like pursue” Maybe for now I will try to be more Lagom. Lagom (pronounced [ˈlɑ̂ːɡɔm]) is a Swedish word meaning "just the right amount" not too much, not too little.
For now, I will be Lagom angry. I will not be bitter. I will allow myself to rest, take guilt and frustration as they come and try to find a meaning in it all. I will allow myself to be the title-less Lynn, the one who has a functioning adult nine-to-five job, who enjoys hikes, boxing with people double her side and the one who enjoys drinking pints of beer with friends and who talks and laughs till morning! I will do all of this to pursue people who have been in my shoes to allow themselves to be human, to dare to feel tired and defeated, then to get on their feet again and again, until the circle is broken, until their voice is loud and strong enough that it will push a change to happen!
And I hope this personal text will reach someone that maybe can relate, and it will tell them that they are not alone, and they definitely don’t need to do the fight alone!
Thanks so much for sharing this
@Lynn ! I’m more than convinced that this story will reach others who can relate and will also make them feel and understand that they/we are not alone in all of this
Thank you for shedding light on your struggle, Lynn. It is an incredible action and will help make a change, I’m sure of it!
Thank you so very much for sharing your story! Beautifully written.
I lived illegally in Germany for one long decade. I had no medical insurance, no work permit, no access to education, and cringed every time when I saw police patrol. The most difficult thing for me was to “stifle” my ambition. I always felt that I could achieve everything I wanted. Instead, I did the most embarrassing “jobs” that no one wanted to do. Life was literally humiliating me. I went through hell, felt broken, desperate, and unworthy. Back then I was not able to understand why I had to make such a traumatic – but transformational - experience, nor could my friends. I somehow survived and ended up in Belgium, doing what I love.
Life is a mystery and I still don’t understand it fully, but I firmly believe that there is a purpose in all that suffering. Your pain cocreates this beautiful community.
Sending you much love!
Thank you everyone for the kind words and encouragement.. To be honest i would have not dare to share those very personal thought if it wasn't for the safety and belonging i feel within Statefree community <3
Dear Lynn, thank you so much for sharing your deeply personal, thought provoking and powerful piece.
“Being a human was something I didn’t allow myself to be. “ - I so resonate with this. Thank you for sharing with vulnerability and courage this personal account!