Interviewing refugees

I mixed directly with the refugees to ask about their destinies when traveling across borders, attempting to capture their authentic testimonies.

Wikimedia Commons, Author: Tigerente

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Skepticism towards refugees has been deeply rooted in the Czech Republic. We reject proposed solutions such as quotas. We only react, while offering no alternatives.

The biggest problem, however, is that we misunderstand refugees, who are simply human beings fighting against the hardship of their lives. These are caused only by the fact that these people were born in the wrong time in the wrong place, where the stronger play out their chess game along with those who are insane.

I therefore decided to document the eyewitnesses’ accounts of what it means to be a refugee; what it means to leave your own family, move ignominiously over more or less dangerous border lines, possessing basically nothing more than your own life, and in constant fear of that.

I went directly among the refugees and here are their answers, in a deliberately fragmentary and unchanged way:

MV: “My parents knew about it. My father absolutely refused to go with me. He told me that he was born here and will stay here. My mother stayed in unity with her parents. My sister still blames me for not bringing her with me, but at this time she did not want go either. So out of the whole family I went alone.“

BM: “My wife, who had cough and a runny nose at the time, told me we are going in the wrong direction and that we should turn more to the right. I did not listen to her at the time. I was scared. And there, at one point, we heard shooting. In my opinion, we were no further than 200 meters from the machine gun. The question is whether the border guards fired at a deer or whether it was some decent man who gave us warning.”

RL: “They drove us to the border. Well actually, not exactly to the border – to the borderland – and we met two German traffickers who were then to take us over the border. These traffickers went with us for nine hours. It was in November, it was both raining and snowing, it was very tiring, we heard shooting, we heard dogs barking, we went over a bridge. Suddenly a train’s lights blinded us, so they shouted at us to fall in the mud. We fell in the mud face down in order not be seen from the train. And it happened that the traffickers threw the suitcases on the ground a couple of times and fled. So my mom said, ‘Oh dear, they saw someone and therefore fled.’ But they did this to make a noise deliberately, so if there was a guard, they would shoot. And when they escaped and made noise, and there was no shooting, they came back. However, they let us sit there. Well then, before we crossed the border, one of the traffickers wanted more money, even after he had been properly paid.”

JV: “They led us… three or four people, and helped us with the suitcases … I do not know how far it was sincere and how far they were playing on our nerves when they told us: ‘Now you have to lie down in the ditch, because there is a patrol a hundred or two hundred steps, passing every four minutes, they have it partitioned.’ And then he said: ‘He’s gone.’ So we continued… And this was repeated maybe five or six times, and then we came to a place where they told us: ‘Well, here is Germany in front of you. Here we leave you and you are on your own.’ They just did not tell us where to go.”

Do these scraps described above seem sufficiently oppressive? Are we able to imagine what it means to be a refugee on the road to freedom? Are we able to look at refugees more humanely and offer them a helping hand? They are people just like us after all. Still nothing?

And what if I tell you that none of these testimonies above were by recent refugees? This does not mean that nothing of this happened. The scraps from the life of refugees are not the words of Syrians fleeing to Germany, but the memories of Czechoslovaks fleeing from Communism in 1948, experiences more than 60 years old recorded as part of the project Invisible Victims of Communism.

MV stands for Milan Vítek (1927) who as a student in 1948 was expelled for political reasons from the Faculty of Law of the Charles University and fled from Communist Czechoslovakia through the Bohemian Forest (Šumava). He lived in the refugee camps Regensburg, Wegsheide and Ludwigsburg. He participated in the founding of the National Democratic Party in exile in Canada. 1

BM stands for Bohumil Moravec (1913), whose passport was taken away by the Communists and who was imprisoned in February 1948. After his release, he crossed the border in the Šumava. He went through refugee camps in Regensburg and Ludwigsburg. He went to Quebec in Canada in September 1949 and later moved to Toronto.

RL stands for Radmila Locherová (1940). She emigrated as an eight year-old girl with her parents who put their confidence in traffickers while crossing the border. She went through the refugee camp Valka and arrived by ship in New Brunswick in Canada in 1950. 2

JN stands for Jan Vrána (1924) who was expelled from his university studies for political reasons after February 1948. He crossed the border with his wife near the town of Aš. He went through the refugee camps in Regensburg and Ludwigsburg and emigrated to Canada in 1954.

After 1948 when hundreds of thousands of our citizens were leaving Czechoslovakia, many countries offered them help, although they did not have to, and even though they had enough problems of their own. Now we should help someone in return, and repay the debt to our own history. We should not miss our chance to help humanity.

This blog was published in Czech on the website Respekt blog.

Notes:

  1. Neviditelné oběti komunismu [Invisible Victims of Communism], educational website devoted to the Czechoslovak emigration after 1948, http://bit.ly/2n6VOhE (accessed March 20, 2017).
  2. Neviditelné oběti komunismu [Invisible Victims of Communism], educational website devoted to the Czechoslovak emigration after 1948, http://bit.ly/2n6VOhE (accessed March 20, 2017).
Lukáš Hájek

Lukáš Hájek

participated in research in Canada in 2009 and took over the project Invisible Victims of Communism (http://www.neviditelneobeti.cz/). He graduated in political science at Charles University in Prague and Masaryk University in Brno. Now he studies political science at the University of Mannheim.