The world is unfair to refugees

The notion that the world is not fair has lingered for a very long time. From the time of Cain to the greatest inequality the world has ever seen. Not until several days ago, however, that it struck my nerve on how the world works to most.

I went to the Souk Jara in Jabal Amman. Souk Jara is an annual Friday market that runs from May to September and it mainly hosts a range number of local handcraft sellers. Souk literally means ‘market’ in Arabic. Located in the famous Rainbow Street, the market is not only frequented by foreign tourists, but also locals. After roaming around the Souk Jara, I decided to go to get a new book and have a late lunch at the Books@Cafe down the street. After purchasing a book on the crusades and having my lunch, I ordered an online taxi for a ride home.

Let’s call the taxi driver Ahmad. Originating from Amman, Ahmad is a typical everyday modern Jordanian man. I believe he couldn’t be older than 30-year old or even younger. He dressed neatly, drove a high-end sedan (albeit a rented one he admitted), wore up-to-date sunglasses, and groomed his facial hair. He spoke a very good English and one could easily tell that he had some sort of experience living or studying in an Anglophone environment.

He liked to raise topics for chatting during our 30 minute-journey. He hit it off with the basic one i.e. my identity. I told him that I’m from Indonesia, have been in Jordan for several months, and currently work for a non-profit organisation in Amman. He guessed that I work with refugees because it appeared Ahmad’s general understanding of a foreigner works for a non-profit entity is somehow related to refugees in Jordan.

Well, he was spot on and I thought Ahmad was just another local who has, in a way, encountered a refugee in Amman. With more than a million refugees in a country with almost 10 million population, one could expect that a chance for a local to bump into a refugee in their daily activity is quite high. Tens of thousands refugees live in Amman or in the outskirts of the Kingdom’s capital. The rest resides either in refugee camps or lives by themselves in other governorates.

I couldn’t be more wrong. Ahmad, now already lighting-up his cigarette (oh yes, it’s almost a custom here for taxi drivers to freely lit up their cigarettes while on duty — and sometimes they don’t even ask for a permission), spoke passionately how he was studying (and losing money) in Canada where he lived for 4 years. He said he got a diploma in Canada and he presently studies civil engineering at a Jordanian university.

After learning that I read law in my university, he suddenly burst into a full-fledged testimony. Ahmad said, “I applied for refugee in Canada”.

This 6-word opening line struck me because he didn’t strike me as a person suffering from some sort of persecution. Refugee essentially means someone who is fleeing from a persecution or serious human rights violations due to her/his race, religion, nationality, political view, or being a member of a particular social group.

However, this is not the issue I wish to talk about now. Although Ahmad didn’t give too much detail about his life in Canada, he laid out the following important points. He said his refugee claim was rejected. The Canadian government subsequently put him under a deportation order, which forced him to leave his fiancé back in Canada. He was flown back to Jordan.

He then asked me, “is it true that if your refugee gets rejected then you cannot go back to that country?”

I looked at him and raised my eyebrows as if asking him what he meant with the question. That’s a very specific inquiry I thought to myself. He explained that basically Canada would not allow him to enter again in the future. Forever. He had tried to seek advice from some lawyers in Canada over phone calls about this matter but it’d cost him a fortune for a formal consultation. Knowing that I studied law and work on refugee issues evidently had triggered him to ask me that particular question.

I took 5 seconds before I answered him. I didn’t want to give him all the technical issues on international refugee law, human rights law, or international migration law. After all, we only had less than 10 minutes for our journey. So, I casually told him that regulations on who can come into a country are different from one to another. He nodded indicating that he’s following my comment while also steering behind the wheel. I continued on by saying that basically it’s up to Canada to decide how long they want to bar him from entering the country. I also highlighted him the fact that nowadays some countries even don’t allow people to seek refuge in their territories.

“I don’t know, to me it’s very unfair. I didn’t do anything illegal. I didn’t break the law. I only applied for refugee there”, replied Ahmad.

I then, trying to remain as neutral as I could, briefly responded, “Well, I guess that’s just how the world works. Everything is now unfair to most.” I could feel the silence snuck into the car after that brief comment.

Within seconds, we reached the destination. We shook hands, I got off his car, and he drove on to get his next client.

“Life is basically unfair. But even in a situation that’s unfair, I think it’s possible to seek a kind of fairness.” — Haruki Murakami

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