In December of 2013 I left the Netherlands with my meagre possessions in the back of a van, bound for Germany. My intent was to finally escape the clutches of the Dutch systems and their persecution. Even though I was fortunate to have a job and supportive people already in what would become my new home, it was still a big leap.
Most clearly I remember sitting there in the van, watching the reception on my phone with Dutch SIM card fade until it switched over to a German provider and me looking up, at the road ahead of me, realising that I would never be coming back. This accompanied by the sense of trepidation about this decision.
Now, over two years later, I wish I had been able to take this leap of faith sooner. I'm also intensely grateful to those who have supported me over the past years to make it possible for me to establish a new life in Germany and from the looks of it soon resolve all outstanding issues.
I will however never forget that for all intents and purposes I was a refugee, fleeing a country where my life and well-being was under threat. At many other points I had been at the edge of deciding to gamble away the last of my money on a plane ticket to a country where I might be able to rebuild my life. It takes so much courage to take that step; abandoning everything and hoping that it will work out somehow.
Currently people are still escaping a terrible civil war in Syria and other sources of violence in that area, with countless refugees fleeing from everything they own to try and find safety and maybe a new life elsewhere. One can live without possessions, after all. Most important is to be safe.
When I then see this amount of aggression their presence invokes not only in Germany but also in other countries, I cannot help but feel like it's something personal. How different was my situation, after all? When I hear scornful remarks aimed at these refugees about how well-dressed they are and that many of them have a smartphone, I just feel sad inside at such a lack of understanding.
Then the questioning of their motives. They're just there to profit from the systems and people in those countries they flee to, and such assumptions.
I wasn't dressed in rags when I first arrived in Germany. I also had a smartphone and even a laptop with me. My motives were to find a place where I could be safe, rebuild my life while supported by those wonderful people who gave me such an unimaginable opportunity. I wasn't there to profit off anything or anyone. On the contrary, I was more than prepared to give back at least equal to that which I had been provided with by others.
I then hear and see these... extremists say such horrible things about refugees, of which most no doubt are much like how I was, over two years ago: exhausted of moving, tired of fighting, numb from the pain while trying to find a place away from the fear and terror. Meanwhile assailed and harassed from every side by those who try to label you as an opportunist and manipulative person.
At witnessing and reading about these scenes and related demonstrations, I feel sick to my stomach as very unpleasant memories resurface. Memories of rejection, of having to fight to just be accepted as a human being. It makes me question how welcome someone like me truly is in Germany, in the eyes of these... people.
One shouldn't need to have been a refugee to just treat these people who flee from violence as fellow human beings.