19-year-old Rojin is a Yazidi. Today she is staying in Lithuania in one of the refugee centres. Yazidis are the followers of a syncretic religion founded in the 12th century and live mainly in Iraq, Syria and Turkey. The Yazidi community has always been marginalised. In 2014, they experienced genocide committed against them by ISIS. Some of them survived and today they are trying to live in the best way they can. Some stayed, waiting for justice in the refugee camps, while others fled to the old continent.
However, in Europe, the fate of refugees is not easy. Today, Rojin explains how she became a victim of the Belarusian system. She also recalls the turning point and the moment when she spoke in the Lithuanian parliament on behalf of all refugees detained in the camps.
My name is Rojin Shamo
“I am Rojin Shamo from Iraqi Kurdistan. I am a Yazidi and being a Yazidi is not easy. I’ve always wanted freedom, I’ve wanted to feel that I could breathe. Europe seemed to be the solution to my problem. I arrived in Lithuania last year, on June 21st to be exact. I came as an ordinary girl who didn’t know what it was like to suddenly be alone and be left to fend for myself.
Now I live in a refugee camp. My dreams of freedom in Europe ended with me living alongside complete strangers, and with the only way to have any kind of conversation was by speaking in English. I am glad that I spent so much time learning English in Iraq. However, I would have never thought that the English language would become the only way for me to communicate with other people who, like me, ended up in Lithuania. I would have never thought that I would become a victim of the Belarusian regime. All I wanted was freedom and safety.
Three uniformed guards
Life has experienced me, I have been through many difficult days. It was these days that forced me to decide that I was leaving. I was told there was a way to get to Europe, and discussing it took me many days and hours. Then I made my decision.
First, the airport in Erbil in Kurdistan, then Turkey, and finally Belarus. I spent two days there, and in the morning they took us to the border. I remember everything, every detail.
There were three uniformed guards; I remember the forest. They checked us and took our phones (away). Then they told us to get in the two white trucks. The windows were covered. We drove for 5 hours, maybe more. Finally, the guards escorted us and said that we should go in the indicated direction until we found a passage to Lithuania. Then we were supposed to look for the guards. So we did./And that’s what we did. We found ourselves in Lithuania. I didn’t know that I was a victim of the Belarusian plan or that I would be locked in a camp for a year. This year was a huge challenge for me. But still I am, I am alive.
Blue barracks for refugees
This year has changed me a lot. It made me stronger, wiser, more patient, I’ve been through so much after all. Various situations occurred while I was in the camp. I lived in a single women zone. Everywhere were blue barracks in which we slept. But I always tried to be polite and friendly, to help and to explain. After all, we all go through the same. I want others to know about it – to know what the situation for refugees is in refugee camps.
Nothing changes. We don’t know what will happen next, what future awaits us. In theory, we could leave now, and get our freedom back, some of us were allowed to do it. But in practice, we would have left this place without any documents. Without any chance for a job or a flat. And how can we live on our own, outside, without work? I felt I had to do something.
Without it, I wouldn’t be Rojin
It has been exactly a year since I arrived in Lithuania in June 2021, when I stood in the Lithuanian parliament and talked about what refugees go through. About how I feel. I was standing in front of a crowd of people, cameras were everywhere. I feel sorry for myself that I was locked in the camp, that I had to go through it all. But without this hard life journey, I wouldn’t be the person I am today. I wouldn’t be Rojin.
I want to say openly what I think and feel, not to be afraid. The whole of Europe should listen to me. I want people to hear what I said in the Lithuanian parliament. Because it was a turning point, my voice was finally heard. I was there on behalf of all refugees.
I want to speak out about the stereotypes that have arisen around us. Some Lithuanians believe that refugees are always uneducated and only come to benefit from the state’s social assistance. But someone who escaped from war and violence can still be useful, and can be a part of society. Can succeed. And we can all live together side by side.
You don’t have to do big things/something big, just show those who flee to your country that you support them on this path. Help them find something they are good at, show them that they are welcome, and above all, safe. Try to understand them. They escaped from war and violence and saw their loved ones die. They fall asleep hearing bombs falling on their cities.
I hope that one day the approach will be different and that the situation of refugees in Lithuania or any other country will change. That they will find a sense of security and will feel that this is their place.
We all deserve safety and freedom”
Rojin was interviewed by Julia Parkot, a member of the Salam Lab editorial team.
Translated by Weronika Szczurko. Reviewed by Dawid Mliczek.
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On the 24th and 25th of September we will meet in Krakow with exceptional trainers and coaches: Karol Grygorukiem – a documentary photographer and activist, Yuliya Kazdobina – Head of the Ukrainian Foundation for Security Studies, Rojin Shamo – a refugee from the north of Iraqi Kurdistan, Ewa Wołkanowska-Kołodziej – a journalist specializing in social issues and activist working for migrants, Dalia Al-Mokdad – a communication specialist and expert in digital media and Countering Violent Extremism and Karol Wilczyński – co-creator of Salam Lab, for the past 8 years involved in work with people on the move and forced migration.
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