UN speaker: Being a refugee is an experience, not an identity

The World
Mohammed Badran was 19 when he was forced to flee Syria. He's the co-founder of Syrian Volunteers in the Netherlands.

Mohammed Badran was 19 when he was forced to flee Syria. He's the co-founder of Syrian Volunteers in the Netherlands.

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Mohammed Badran was forced to flee his home in Syria when he was 19. But don't feel bad for him.

Earlier this week, Badran was a guest at the United Nations' Summit for Refugees and Migrants, where he made clear something that gets lost in coverage of the refugee crisis: A person fleeing their home is not a victim forever. Being a refugee isn't an identity, he says.

"Being a refugee, you know, it's really an experience itself. It's not a label," Badran later said. "This experience, it was really tough and it was really difficult, as well. It taught me how to become strong, you know what I mean?"

Badran is trying to change the world's perception of people seeking refuge, starting with the organization he co-founded in the Netherlands, where he was granted asylum after fleeing Syria due to threats over his humanitarian work there.

Syrian Volunteers in the Netherlands provides community services to Dutch residents. One of the group's projects focuses on helping elderly Dutch people clean up their gardens. Badran pairs Syrian volunteers with Dutch counterparts to do the work together.

"And then they try to have a coffee ... and afterwards they sit together and start sharing the experience of this work," he says.

Part of SYVN's goal is to empower refugees, to help them not feel victimized. But Badran also wants to drive home the idea that "refugee" is not a permanent state. 

"We experienced some difficult situations, but that will not make us for our whole lives victims," he says. "So I really wanted to show the people how we are taking action, how we are trying to help, to be a solution to solve this crisis."

The day of Badran's speech at the UN summit, Donald Trump Jr., the Republican presidential nominee's oldest son, evoked anti-Jewish propaganda with this tweet:

Also on Monday, the Associated Press quoted Badran at the UN summit. “There is intense public fear about refugees," he said. "As young refugees, we face this anger and fear every day. Doors are closed to us. Higher education is denied to us. We are often dismissed, not taken seriously and underestimated.”

Badran says education and opportunity are human rights, and he doesn't want people to forget that being forced to leave their home countries doesn't take away refugees' ambitions.

But first of all, people needing refuge should be able to flee.

"There's no safe routes for refugees and we want to provide safe routes," he says. "That's a right as well, and we have the right of escaping the wars."