I want to give my children the opportunity to learn and live peacefully
Palestinians represent 10% of the population of Lebanon. Palestinian self-identified heirs of refugees born in Lebanon continue to feel like exiles there. They often join the flow of refugees from Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan to avoid the humiliation and pain of the long list of bans they face. Their right to choose where they can live, what they can learn, which occupations to practice, even their right to access to healthcare. This ethnic group has been living with restricted human rights in Lebanon for nearly 60 years.
R. is a Palestinian woman born in Lebanon. She lives in Bulgaria with her husband and her five children. Since she has come here she lets herself dream – not so much for herself as for the future of her children. Her daughter suffers from epilepsy. In Bulgaria, the child receives regular medical care, attends school and is guided by conscientious Bulgarian teachers whom R. and her husband fully trust.
The family considers its life in Bulgaria as an opportunity, particularly from the moment they received a hand out for support from Caritas. The family is part of the Integration Program of the Center for Integration of Refugees and Migrants “St. Anna” at Caritas Sofia, and R. is one of the fastest-growing students in the Bulgarian language class, which is held there.
“Caritas helped me stand firm on my feet and begin my integration into Bulgarian society. They gave me the strength and the courage to start speaking Bulgarian,” R says. She reads quickly and tries to remember every Bulgarian word she hears. She is avid to communicate, understand and exchange experiences in Bulgarian. She dreams her children to be healthy and happy to feel well accepted here. They are glad that they are good students as herself and she is strongly hopeful that in Bulgaria they will receive the education they cannot afford in Lebanon.
She shares her story because she realizes how important it is for the Bulgarian society to understand the problems of refugees. She does this openly because she believes there are no bad people. “I have convinced myself, in my life – as you treat people, so they will treat you, I respect Bulgarians and I enjoy their respect, and Caritas has helped a lot to me and my family.” Caritas is a new life for anyone who has sought support from the organization, thank you for everything!” R. says.
Her life in Lebanon is a painful wound that will hardly ever heal. Yet she has learned to look into the future – the lack of equality and the sense of insecurity are the sensations she has grown up with. She does not want her children to grow with their wings cut and lives to show them they are free and capable of making their dreams come true.
The family still has no status in Bulgaria. After three years of hardship, the Bulgarian authorities issued yet another refusal. “This refusal is very hard for me,” R. says with pain in her voice. But the pain in her eyes is even more noticeable. It matters much more than the tears she bravely manages to hold back.
However, R. continues to be willing to participate in Caritas’ integration program and does not stop trying to integrate into the Bulgarian society. She tries to teach her children everything she learns during the Bulgarian language classes. It is important for her to be able to answer all their questions. She does not want to feel that they are in a strange place. R. and her husband’s mission is to find a new homeland for their children, to show them that despite all the difficulties and there is a place under the sun for them.
“We are struggling with the difficulties and will continue until our last breath in order to ensure a good future for our children. I am a Palestinian. I was born in Lebanon, where it is impossible for the Palestinians to lead a normal way of life. We live there without citizenship, with rights violated. Until today I live with the pain that I do not have my homeland. So do my children.
I’m not a person for whom money is the most important thing. We were looking for security and a decent life for our children. If we stayed in Lebanon until my son turned 18 years, he would not be able to continue his education. I want to give my children the opportunity to learn and live peacefully. I want them to be able to work the profession they wish because in Lebanon they are deprived of this right.”
Prejudices in Bulgarian society to refugees do not encourage R. and her family to live in a closed circle and isolate themselves. On the contrary, R. says that they respect the Bulgarians and believes that they are therefore respectful of her and her family.
She is convinced that kindness destroys stereotypes and tells how she has started greeting her neighbors kindly. At first they avoided her, but today they all know her and always greet her “Hello” and “Good day” when they see each other.
“The key to everything is effective integration into society – if you have it, everything will come be fine. My children, to this day, do not have a homeland. My husband and I are like them. I do not even want to talk about what I experienced in Lebanon. I do not want my children to live the life that I lived, to struggle as I struggled when I grew up. I want to be able to answer them when they ask me about my homeland. For the first time here they feel they have a homeland. Let us follow the principle of good and think about the future of children. As a mother, I entrust my children to Bulgaria and I am hopeful they would receive human attitude and an opportunity to enjoy a full life here.”
The children of R. love to attend the events organized by Caritas Sofia and actively participate in the activities in the center “St. Anna”. That is how they have found many new Bulgarian friends. R. will never forget the hand out and acknowledges that the support of all Caritas employees has boosted her motivation and confidence to develop and move forward. She thinks that Bulgaria is a very good country and is curious about anything related to the place that she wants to accept as her homeland in her heart.