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Five Ways to Cope with Migration and Exile

Coping with migration, especially as an exile is not easy. I get it. I wrote about the challenges faced by people who have been forced out of their homes as a result of conflict, human rights violations, violence, or have escaped persecution, in my previous post. Now that I’ve got that out of the way, I wanted to write about the things that have helped me survive my life as a refugee, migrant, exile (whatever it is they call us these days). Now, assuming your basic needs are met (which I know is easier said than done), I have listed below five things that I have found useful in my journey.

1. Look After Yourself First

Mastering the art of self-care is the best thing anyone can do for themselves. Putting your own needs before others may sound simple but I think it’s actually quite hard to do. Well, at least that was the case for me. Many of us mistake ‘self-care’ for ‘being selfish’ when in fact, the first person we are responsible for looking after is ourselves. There’s an old saying I completely agree with: ‘you can’t help anyone if you can’t help yourself’.

Think about the human heart for a second. It works nonstop to deliver blood via the circulatory system, to supply oxygen and nutrients, remove CO2 and other wastes to every tissue of the body. But before doing so, its priority is to supply blood to the heart muscle via the coronary arteries first. Otherwise, it can’t do its job and we die. Simple. Umm..what did I just type? My old medical student self is coming out. Go away. Okay, she’s gone (sorry Dad).

Now, let me try other examples. During emergency safety demonstrations on the aeroplane, the flight attendants instruct us to put the oxygen mask on ourselves before assisting others. Why? Because how are you going to help someone else with their mask if you are not breathing yourself? And finally, if I still haven’t convinced you, think about this. You are walking past a lake, you don’t know how to swim and suddenly you notice someone in the lake crying out for help and drowning. What are you going to do? Obviously, if you jump in without knowing how to swim, both of you are going to drown. So, the best thing to do is to call for help which takes me to my next point.

2. Get Help

I can imagine how difficult it can be to trust people or any kind of institution or organisation after you have had the experience of living under an oppressive regime or experienced war. Add in the language and cultural barrier, and it becomes even harder to get help. In my experience, it took me such a long time to 1. Realise I needed help, 2. Know that help is out there, 3. Trust and ask for help.

The truth is what you have experienced is something that people only see on television, read about in the papers, and chances are not everyone is going to understand you. However, there are organisations and professionals trained specifically to help you. You don’t have to suffer in silence. One organisation that truly changed my life is Solace Women’s Aid, and the Samaritans 24-hour helpline.

Depending on what you need help with there are various kinds of help out there. I am planning on creating a resource section on this site and will compile a list and post it on the site. In the meantime, depending on what you need help with, and where you are you can start with the refugee resources page of The International Refugee Rights Initiative. Here are the lists of searches by country, for example, Turkey, France, Germany, U.K, and U.S. You can also try the Forced Migration Online directory of organisation and then type the name of the city you are in the search bar. Directory of services for young refugees and migrants is also quite helpful if you are in the UK. If you are in Australia, you can view the services directory of Refugee Council in Australia.

3. Turn Your Pain into Art

Art has played a major role in my healing journey. Music, paintings, and literature have been my best doctors. I was very young when we escaped from my ‘home country’. I barely spoke a word of English and for a long time, I couldn’t go to school.

During our journey of being smuggled out (long story again), the best thing my father did for me was that he managed to get me some second hand Charles Dickens novels. With the help of an English to my native language dictionary, I was introduced to the world of English literature and found peace in ‘Oliver Twist’, ‘Great Expectations’, ‘A Tale of Two Cities’ and ‘David Copperfield’. Even though I barely understood it, I would use the dictionary to translate and then imagine the rest of it. Plus, it’s not like there was anything else I could do so I immersed myself in these books and blocked everything else that was happening around me.

I also kept a diary and at the hardest times of my life, words came to my rescue. To this day, writing is still my best friend and helps me channel all my emotions and keeps me feeling alive.

Whether it is music, writing, comedy, painting, photography, acting, singing or anything creative that allows you to turn all of those nasty feelings into art form, and get it out of you, it is likely to help. When you see your pain in a tangible form, you find new ways of looking at it and digesting it. And honestly, don’t worry about it being ‘not good enough’. If it makes you feel good, do it. You are doing it for you and who cares what anyone else thinks?

4. Make the Most of Internet

The internet is full of useful free resources. You can literally Google anything and find an answer. If you have a question about anything just type it into Google and you will find someone, somewhere who has written about it, made a video about or a website that directs you to a link where you can find more information.

For example, I decided to follow my passion and applied to study creative writing part time at the University of Cambridge Institute of Continuing Education alongside working. I got accepted and I was pretty excited but I found out that I didn’t qualify for any kind of student finance loan because of my visa status. So, after sulking for a few days, I Googled universities that would give grants and provide help for refugees or family of refugees. After contacting various organisations and in the end found a grant through the University of Cambridge and applied for it. But, again my grant was rejected because those grants were only available to people who had not studied at university and I had completed a Bachelors in another country.  As far as I know, my only option is to save money so I can pay the university’s fees.  Frankly, I can’t afford as making ends meet is my first challenge these days. I was pleased to find out that there are various free online courses offered by universities on Coursera and Udemy for example which are also offered in different languages. Other similar websites include FutureLearn and OpenLearn. If you are interested in learning how to code, again, there are many free online resources which can help you. You can view the list here.

5. Focus on What You Can Change

I don’t consider myself a religious person but I love the short variation of the Serenity Prayer by Reinhold Niebuhr:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

Ever since the first time I heard this, it stayed with me and reminded me to focus on what I can change. For example, as much as I wish I could, I cannot make the wars stop or bring down dictators single-handedly. But, I can learn more about my rights as a human, and make sure I am not a dictator within my own social circle or family. Similarly, I cannot make the hate fuelled by ignorance stop, or change my past. But again, I can choose to seek the right help and train myself to not let those things in and turn me into a bitter person.

Whether you are happy or sad, reading this right now, remember that change is inevitable and nothing in this world stays the same. Such is the order of this world. Above all, remember that you are not a victim. You are a survivor.

And now over to you. What do you think? What has helped you? I would love to hear your thoughts on what things you have found to be useful in your journey.


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