No good Samarian for, Sarah | Sunday Observer

No good Samarian for, Sarah

Sarah  with her old Basketball team; faces cropped for protection
Sarah with her old Basketball team; faces cropped for protection

At 19 years old, Sarah* has her whole life ahead of her. However, when asked about her biggest hope for the future, she cannot bring herself to picture it. She isn’t easily prone to hopelessness; a refugee from Pakistan, Sarah lived her entire life being discriminated against.

As Ahmadi Muslims, Sarah and her family were persecuted for their belief in the second coming of the Messiah. Although a peace-loving community, Ahmadi Muslims are rejected by majority sects in Pakistan.

“From the day I started school to the day we left Pakistan, we were persecuted. When I was small, the other children would refuse to play with me. They called us ‘Qadianis’ and wouldn’t even share water with me.”

But Sarah refused to let the hostility get in the way of her passion. A strong athlete, she played basketball, cricket, badminton, table tennis and more. On the courts or on the grounds, it didn’t matter what the others thought of her - the only things that mattered were her talent and her determination to succeed. She even represented her school at table tennis tournaments and basketball matches, playing in teams with the very students that isolated her. She has a few pictures of herself competing at various events saved on her phone that she displays with pride.

Her dreams of becoming a professional athlete came to a sudden halt when her family began to receive threats. Fearing for their safety, they had no choice but to flee the country. At 16, she left her life in Pakistan behind, along with everything and everyone she had ever known. But again, she wasn’t intimidated - her parents decided that Sri Lanka was the safest place for them to seek asylum, so she embraced her temporary stay here and was determined to enjoy it.

“Our experience in Sri Lanka was really awesome, we had a lot of fun and we had freedom. This was the most calm and safe place for us. My sisters and I could travel anywhere, even without our mother, and we felt free.”

Sarah and her family spent two peaceful years in Sri Lanka. They registered their claim for asylum with UNHCR and rented a house after registering themselves at the local police station. They were awaiting resettlement in another country, as Sri Lanka does not permit refugees and asylum seekers to live in the country permanently. The Government allows families to remain in Sri Lanka until they are resettled in another country by UNHCR. The average refugee stays in Sri Lanka for 3 to 7 years until they are permanently moved to a country that accepts refugees for resettlement.

Three days after the Easter Sunday attacks however, everything changed for Sarah and her family once again. Strange men came into their home and demanded that they get out, threatening to kill them if they didn’t do as they were told. They were given only two hours to pack their belongings and leave the area. Sarah and her family fled to a relative’s house and stayed in hiding, but another group of strangers came into that house too. Armed with sticks and knives this time, they wanted the same thing - they wanted them gone.

“We didn’t have anywhere else to go, so we came here (refugee shelter) and there were so many people here. We had just one hall for hundreds of people, sleeping and living in one hall. We were extremely tense, not sure what would happen to us.”

The uncertainty of their future is especially hard for Sarah; she doesn’t understand why this is happening to them.

“Till now we are hopeless, we don’t know what will happen next. I urge people to realise that we are not bad people. We haven’t done anything wrong. We are also sorry for the Easter attack and are in pain because of it. We spent two years in Sri Lanka and treated everyone like our brothers and sisters, so it was painful to us as well that so many lives were taken. But it wasn’t our fault, so why are we being punished?”

*Name changed for protection

**This is part of a series of stories marking World Refugee Day by UNHCR in collaboration with Citra Social Innovation Lab.