No Longers Strangers? by Javed Masih

If you want the salutary facts – necessarily subjective but certainly typical – about what a refugee family experiences after arriving in Europe from a vastly different geographic and cultural background, this will fill you in.

Inexplicable transfers from one camp to another, harsh and cramped living conditions, forced mingling with potential enemies with different religious and social backgrounds, baffling encounters with authorities, confusing restrictions on daily activities – all these are common experiences to asylum seekers wherever they are from and in whichever country they seek refuge. Add to that an incomprehensible national language, bitter weather and unfamiliar food. And nothing to do all day for months, even years, of uncertain waiting. It’s not surprising that conflicts occasionally arise or that such people frequently fall into despair or depression.

Javed and his family – motivated by their very real Christian faith – deliberately sought to be kind and helpful toward their fellow residents and to cooperate with the staff of the refugee camps. They also made an effort to meet people, learn Dutch, attend Church, and volunteer in a variety of minor services, which resulted in significant advantages in terms of their social acceptance. Some of the locals, especially Church members, proved very helpful and friendly. And finally, after several appeals against repeated rejections of their application, they were granted residence in the Netherlands. As such, Javed’s story is encouraging; his and his family’s persistent efforts at integration proved successful.

The writing style in this book is, unfortunately, neither captivating nor very fluid. Lengthy, blow-by-blow accounts of their activities lacking emotional content soon become rather tedious. It would have been nice to be shown each family member’s feelings and reactions instead of being being presented with detailed lists of what happened. Perhaps this also reflects a cultural difference.

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