South Sudan in the Netherlands
The forest between the city and Ruigoord
“I hadn’t known anything but war. I thought war was a part of life. It was my reality. It was only when I arrived in the Netherlands that I experienced life without war.
I fled to the Netherlands when I was nineteen. I had finished school, but to continue studying I was expected to join the war. I ran. I first arrived in Den Bosch and then on to Amsterdam via a transfer initiated by the asylum procedure itself. Amsterdam is my second home. I don’t call myself Dutch, but an Amsterdammer.
South Sudan was formed in 2011. So for the first time, I have a country of origin. I never felt I belonged in the former Sudan. Five years ago I returned to South Sudan for the first time in eighteen years. I immediately felt I was back at home. Everything is still recognisable. My mother is happy I live in Amsterdam and wants me to stay there. If I had stayed in South Sudan, I would be long dead.
But I don’t feel completely at home in Amsterdam. I come into contact with discrimination on a weekly basis. For example, I don’t dare stand next to an expensive car. People refuse to believe that I could be the owner, and immediately presume I want to steal it. I do have lots of friends here. More than the Dutch usually have.
It is on the fourth and fifth of May when I feel that the Netherlands understands me. The war stories talk about a familiar theme for me. On other days, we argue about the most stupid things. The Netherlands should stop complaining and realise how good it is here. I am a refugee’s ambassador and give introductory lessons at schools to help asylum seeker’s integration, and to make them realise that they’ve got it good here. It’s also, personally, a type of trauma therapy. These talks and building up of awareness are, and will always be, necessary. We behave as if refugees are a completely new phenomenon, but I went through it all nineteen years ago.”