WARNING: This poem contains graphic physical and sexual violence that may disturb many readers. Highlight to read the warnings, some of which are spoilers. It includes refugees, multiple attempts to escape from the war zone in Syria, refugee camps, references to kidnapping and murder, loss of family, loss of home, ruins, rape, refoulement, human trafficking, beating, filming sexual assault, official disbelief, reference to forced medical exams, scars, and other mayhem. This is hurt without comfort, although the main character does make it to a safer location in the end. Please consider your tastes and headspace before deciding whether this is something you want to read. It does not connect directly to any other storyline, so skipping it is no problem.
[Monday, February 3, 2014]
The first time Fadwa Zaitoun fled Syria,
she took the Eastern Mediterranean route
through Turkey and over to Greece,
hoping for sanctuary in Europe.
She told them about the siege of
Yarmouk Camp and government forces
kidnapping or even killing the Alawites,
about the destruction of her shack
and the loss of her whole family.
She told them that her entire country
was reduced to ruins, how in places
she had walked for miles through
the husks of burned-out buildings.
She told them about the hard journey,
about the men who offered her a ride and
then raped her. She couldn't tell them
how many times that had happened,
though -- she had lost count.
"We've heard it all before,"
said a bored clerk. "You migrants,
you all tell the same old stories."
"We tell the same stories because
they do the same things to all of us!"
Fadwa said. "It is terrible there."
"You all say that, but you never
have any proof," the clerk said.
"Please, you have to believe me,"
Fadwa begged, clenching her hands.
But they did not.
The Greeks sent her
back to Syria, and not even
to Yarmouk Camp in Damascus.
Instead they dumped her in Daraa,
farther from Europe than ever, where
she had no friends and no hope.
People were not supposed
to send anyone back to a place
where she would be in danger --
it was called refoulement --
but they did it anyway.
Fadwa spent a few months
pulling herself back together
and cleaning houses to earn
money for another attempt
at escaping from Syria.
[Sunday, June 1, 2014]
When Fadwa had enough money,
then she snuck into Jordan and
hired a smuggler in Irbid.
The trip down Jordan
and across Egypt was
hard and hot, but Fadwa
had survived worse.
Then they reached Libya,
which was Hell on Earth.
She had seen the paintings
of Hell on her visit to Greece,
and Libya was surely it.
This was Hell, and the men
of Libya were all devils, with
their black skin and hard hands
and cruel laughter poking her
like so many pitchforks.
They beat her and raped her,
then sold her to different men
who did all the same things again.
Fadwa had to endure it, though,
if she wanted to get back to Europe
and have a chance of escaping this.
However, this time she would go to Italy.
She was never going near Greece again,
even though she spoke some of the language.
They had sent her out of safety into Hell,
where it was all happening again, and
no matter how bad things got here,
no one would ever believe her.
Then it hit her: what she
really needed was proof.
"Take pictures," she gasped
in her very bad Nafusi.
"What?" said the man
who was raping her.
"You have phone, camera,"
said Fadwa. "Take pictures.
Put on internet. Make money."
"Yah, yah!" he said eagerly.
He grabbed another man and
pushed the phone into his hands
before bending her over the table again.
So the Libyan devil filmed Fadwa's rape
while they called her a whore and a slut
and talked about how the Syrians were
good for nothing but buying and selling.
After that, though, they gave her a blanket
and then fed her from their own rations --
tinned fish and beans and chocolate.
They even gave her wine, not expecting
her to drink it because most Muslims didn't,
but Fadwa was Alawite and it had been
too long since she had a good glass of
red, so she drank it and thanked them.
In the morning, they fucked her again,
but they were a little less rough now,
more interested in putting on a show.
It was humiliating, but at least now
Fadwa had proof of what was happening.
The authorities might try to erase it,
because porn was illegal in some places,
but that would not matter. Fadwa knew
that once something got online,
it was on there forever.
The other refugees had
told her that -- once you tried
to get in one place, the officials
would talk to other places and
make it harder for you to get in.
They put everything in a file
and hung it around your neck like
an anchor before throwing you
back into the sea to drown.
But this time it wasn't an anchor,
it was a life raft. It had better be.
Fadwa was gambling her life on that.
[Monday, January 5, 2015]
In Italy, the translator spoke
Modern Standard Arabic. It was
hard for Fadwa to understand,
sometimes, but nowhere near
as bad as Libyan Arabic.
"We have seen you before,"
the translator said, pointing
to a file. "Your picture is here.
Your story is here. You are not
a real refugee, just a migrant.
We know who you are,
you can't lie to us."
"I know," Fadwa said.
"Take that picture. Then
look online for pictures of me.
Some men who raped me filmed it.
Then you will know my story is true."
They frowned at her, but they
ran a search on the computer.
There were the pictures, the films,
Fadwa's thin body spread out
for the whole world to see.
"How do we know this is real?"
the translator asked. "Suddenly we
started to see women claiming this.
It could all be just a stage show."
Fadwa pulled off her dress.
Why wouldn't she? Her body
had already been displayed
in the pictures taken during
the forced medical exam.
This was just one more show,
but with luck, it would be the last.
"Here and here," she said, pointing
to the scars. "They are from that beating."
She pointed to one video on the screen.
They took more pictures, put them
in her file with the videos of men
beating and raping her in Libya.
In the end, the officials
had to admit that Fadwa
qualified as a refugee, that
she had been sold and raped
and tormented for being Syrian
Those were international crimes,
which meant that they were
obligated to help her, even if
they didn't really want to.
"I do not know why this is
happening," the translator said.
"So much pornography all of a sudden,
and we keep thinking it is fake, but
then the scars match up."
Fadwa just shrugged.
"You wanted proof," she said.
"Now you have proof. Be glad."
They were not glad, but they
stamped the papers saying
that she could stay in Europe.
They would send her somewhere --
Germany, Hungary, perhaps Sweden;
they didn't know exactly where --
so she could start a new life.
Fadwa didn't care where.
All she cared was that it wasn't
Syria or Libya or even Greece.
This time, there would be no refoulement.
* * *
Fadwa Zaitoun -- She has olive skin, blue eyes, and long wavy black hair. She was 17 the first time she fled Syria (via the Eastern Mediterranean route through Turkey to Greece) and 18 the second (via the East African route through Jordan, Egypt, and Libya to Italy). She speaks Arabic (North Levantine, Damascus dialect) and some Greek. She struggles to understand Libyan Arabic and has picked up a little Nafusi, which she speaks badly. Sturdy and creative, Fadwa is good at surviving. However, the experiences have left many scars, physical and mental.
Qualities: Good (+2) Alewite, Good (+2) Constitution, Good (+2) Fortitude, Good (+2) Thinking Outside the Box
Poor (-2) Refugee
Compare North Levantine Arabic (spoken in Syria) and Modern Standard Arabic (spoken in Libya).
The Syrian Civil War includes many human rights violations. Yarmouk camp has been one of the hotspots.
The Alawites are a sect of the Ghulat branch only distantly related to other Muslims. Other Syrians often persecute them.
This map shows human migration migration routes out of Syria. It is the biggest mass migration since World War II and has turned into a humanitarian crisis. Here you can see some of the cities and refugee camps.
Libya is notorious for human trafficking.
Italian processing of refugees and their distribution throughout Europe also raise ethical concerns.
* * *
Refoulement poses many problems. There are ways to reduce refoulement. Unfortunately they rely on people caring about refugees, which is rarely the case. Many receiving countries in local-Earth view them as vermin; Terramagne fares somewhat better.
Traumatic stress can manifest in different ways. Prolonged Duress Stress Disorder is similar to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, but involves a long span of torment instead of a single brief incident. In this case, it's too early to tell which of the refugees will suffer from traumatic stress, but after fleeing a war zone, it is likely that most or all of them will have problems. Understand how to cope with traumatic stress or help a friend with it.
Torture produces terrible long-term effects. Torture survivors often have difficulty recovering, even with help. There are ways to recover from torture and help trauma survivors.