Shamim’s story

Caritas International Belgium Shamim’s story

© Caritas International

© Caritas International

06/08/2018

"I’m 32 years old and I have the feeling that a part of my life has been stolen from me."

“A place that belongs to you. That’s yours.” That is how Shamim defines home. Born a refugee, stateless, he is part of the Bihari minority group, a minority known as the ‘forgotten Pakistanis’. His story makes clear why having his own place to call home means so much to him.

“A place that belongs to you. That’s yours.” That is how Shamim defines home. Born a refugee, stateless, he is part of the Bihari minority group, a minority known as the ‘forgotten Pakistanis’. His story makes clear why having his own place to call home means so much to him.

“My name is Shamim[1]. I was born in 1986 in a refugee camp in Dhaka, the capital of Bangladesh. My parents were members of the Bihari minority group – the forgotten Pakistanis[2]. I was born a refugee and I have no nationality.

In the refugee camp, conditions were terrible. Food rations were extremely limited (500 grams of rice a month) and we didn’t have any rights. We couldn’t access schools or hospitals[3].”

I didn’t want to live like that. No one wanted me. Not Bangladesh, not Pakistan, not India…I decided to leave. 

- Shamim

Leaving Bangladesh

“My mother died when I was 5. When I was 10, my father became sick and died from a lack of healthcare. I sold cigarettes until I was 20 years old to make ends meet. Without a form of ID, it was impossible to find a “real” job.

I didn’t want to live like that. No one wanted me. Not Bangladesh, not Pakistan, not India…I decided to leave.

I saved up and took a small boat from Cittagong [South-East Bangladesh]. I didn’t know where it was going. The 50 to 70 other people on board and myself sailed for five days before we reached Karachi [South of Pakistan].

Once we arrived, a car came to take us. They shut us in a house for 11 hours without light. When they came back, they pointed to 7 of us without saying anything. I was one of them.

We then trekked through the mountains. I learned I was in another country called Iraq. Then Turkey, where I was told to get on the roof of a truck. After one failed attempt, I made it up and stayed hidden on the roof for two days. I came down right before a security checkpoint.

I had no idea where I was – not even what country I was in. I stayed hidden until I heard someone speaking in Urdu. They helped me while telling me to take a bath since apparently, I smelled awful. I was in Belgium, a country I’d never heard of. Now, of course, everyone knows about it because of its soccer team.”

Requesting Asylum in Belgium

“This person explained to me that they were going to take me to Belgium’s refugee camp. I was really disappointed because that was the whole reason why I’d left Bangladesh. They took me to the CGRA (Office of the Commissioner General for Refugees and Stateless Persons) where I filed an asylum request. I stayed at Petit Château during the process.

I then learned that my asylum claim had been rejected. I’ve never really understood why since I had trouble understanding the documents. Could have been since I was from Bangladesh? Or because I couldn’t prove my identity?

I had to leave Petit Château. However, I stayed in Belgium for 8 years before being arrested by the police at Chaussée de Waterloo. They took me to a detention center in Wallonia. I stayed there for a month before meeting my new lawyer.”

No nationality, no deportation

“During our discussions, I explained to my lawyer that I wouldn’t mind being sent back to Bangladesh, but that I needed an ID card. However, at a visit to the Bangladeshi embassy, I was told not to expect anything from them. That meant that I couldn’t be deported, because I didn’t have a country to go to.

That was the first time that I heard the word “stateless.”

One day, people from the detainment center came to my room and explained that I had 30 minutes to prepare to leave the center. Happy to hear I was free, I asked if they could wait so that I could arrange my trip back to Brussels. They refused, put my things into a bag and told me to leave.

That meant that I couldn’t be deported, because I didn’t have a country to go to.That was the first time that I heard the word “stateless.”

- Shamim

Without money or a way to contact anyone, I was stuck. The center was not close to anything. There were no busses or stores. I waited at the door to the center for two days. Sometimes, I would see employees leave to smoke a cigarette. Finally, someone gave me 10 euros. I was so thankful; I had never needed money that badly in my life. I asked the person for their contact information so that I could reimburse them later. He refused.”

Proceedings for stateless persons in progress

“Once in Brussels, I was accepted into housing at the Jesuit Refugee Service in Anderlecht, and the process for recognition as a stateless person began.

Since then, I have worked for an old Moroccan man who owns a grocery store. My job consists of making sure that no one robs him from the other side of the street. Nice, no? Since I work at night, the man – who is very kind, by the way – is afraid of having me in the store. I make a minimum of 400 euros a month and get to work on my French. [Editor’s note: Shamim speaks Urdu, Bengali, English, and French, despite never having been to school.]

Today, I am waiting for the response from the judge concerning my application for recognition as a stateless person. I should have a reply in the next 6 months. As I wait, I have to find new housing really soon, since my lease ends August 21st. I really need something short-term, about 5 months, since I should be getting my work permit.”


This interview was conducted as part of the #whatishome campaign. #whatishome is a three-year social media campaign financed by the European Union to increase development education and awareness raising (DEAR) within the scope of the MIND project. 11 countries and 12 Caritas organizations are participating in this campaign. More information can be found here. The content on this page is the responsibility of Caritas International and does not necessarily reflect the official views of the European Union.

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Footnote :

[1]

Alias

[2]

Bangladesh became independent from Pakistan in 1971. With this separation, the Urdu-speaking minority, mainly the Bihari, found itself in a position of political deadlock. The Bangladeshi government rejects them for linguistic and politic reasons. Pakistan accepted 270,000 Biharis, but has since ended this policy.

[3]

The consequence of the political standstill between Bangladesh and Pakistan are serious. Since 1971, more than 300,000 stateless persons have been identified. They live in refugee camps in Bangladesh without access to education, work, or healthcare.

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