Ladies and Gentlemen, last week, I was deported to Switzerland from Helsinki and I would like to tell you my story.
My name is Marae Atallah. I wrote this letter as a result of despair, frustration and being in a poor psychological state. I have been suffering for three years while seeking asylum and have crossed seven states to do so. Today, I am putting my fate into your hands with the hope that you will help me retrieve my humanity.
I have suffered in my Palestine in general and in Gaza City, in particular, which is my hometown. I have seen my children murdered in an attempt from the Hamas’ armed factions to kill me because I was advocating for a life of peace and harmony between us and the Jewish people, pleading that killings and wars do not and will not do any good, and that, as Christians and Jews, we have our right to live in the land of Palestine.
God is my witness, I did my best in order to try to prevent war and murders on both sides. I went back to Gaza in 1996 after College. For about 3 years, together with friends, I thought about a way to stop the war between us and Israel. We were 8 who set up an organisation together.
We started being very active in 2001. We started talking with the Hamas and the Fatah organisations. We wanted to create peace between us first before trying to make peace with the Israelis. I met so many persons, leader, chiefs, army leaders, including people from Egypt or Jordan. We talked a lot. There were many people from the Israeli side who were working with us on the same principles and towards the same goal, but unfortunately we, the Palestinians are the weakest link between these movements.
At that time, I had a job, I had created my small company, I was married, everything was normal. We started talking with Israel in 2008, when our group counted about 40 individuals. Because of our activities, eight people from my group were killed, my children were murdered and my house destroyed. Armed factions also exposed me to various forms of torture.
I had to escape and try to survive with the rest of my family, trying to find freedom outside Gaza. I sold some parts of my company and left, first to Egypt, then, Syria and Turkey. After 8 months and a long journey, I ended up in Switzerland where I claimed asylum. I had imagined that my arrival in Europe would have ended my suffering and that my family and I would find some comfort and peace. But after more than 3 years in Switzerland, I am still surprised at the inhumane treatments given to asylum seekers.
For my first interview, I was interviewed for 6 hours by 5 officers. They wanted to know everything about how my children were killed. They wanted to know if they had died at home or at hospital and the time of their death. But it was not their main focus. Most of all, they wanted to know where the Hamas keeps their weapons. How can I know? They kept asking me military questions, again and again. So I thought that I wouldn't answer military questions because I'm not military and I don’t know everything.
I asked to go to the toilet, they said no. I asked if I could smoke a cigarette, they said we needed to finish the interview first. After I refused to answer questions and the interview finished, the interpret told me: “you are a very brave man but you won’t get any papers”. They invited me to other interviews. One of them was through computers, there was no person in the room. They asked me about Hamas, about Fatah, about who I was with. I tried to explain I wasn't with anyone. After 3 hours, they sent me away.
They called me to another interview, this time in Zurich. The interviewer came in the room, put his kippa on and asked me: “do you know who I am? Do you know what that means? This means I am Jewish, do you have any problem with this?”. I said I didn't have any problem with it. I said that I am a Palestinian man claiming asylum and asked him if it would be possible for him to grant me a status. He said no. And then he started asking me about Gaza, about Jordan, Syria, Egypt, my opinion on Iran or Saudi Arabia. I didn't refuse to discuss these topics because I thought that it was general politics.
Then he asked me if I liked the place I was living in in Switzerland. I said no. And the interview was over, he sent me to live in this place underground, a bunker. We were about 100 people inside and there was only one door. It was under a football stadium. Every minute, every second, the police came for controls. It was like a jail, there was a place to sleep but no kitchen, nothing.
They refused my application, they said I had 5 days to leave Switzerland. I tried to appeal within the five working days legally allowed, but let me tell you what happened. They notified me on a Tuesday at .:00 pm, so the first day was gone. Wednesday and Thursday, no lawyer was working. I went to the office on Friday, they took the case and told me they needed an extra day to go through it. On Monday I went back to the office but they told me “we are sorry, we cannot do anything for you, you have to pay 1600 francs to us now”. I told her that I don’t have fingerprints and that it was my last day to appeal.
She said that if I didn't pay, she couldn't do anything for me. She told me I would never get papers anyway: “You’re Palestinian, Switzerland doesn't give asylum to Palestinian people. You might stay in Switzerland but you will not have papers. If the police catch you, you will go to prison for 3 months because you don’t have documents and you have to leave Switzerland”. Indeed they refused my appeal. They said that my stay in Switzerland is illegal and I should leave immediately.
Several times I was forced to sign papers asking me to leave Switzerland or to face detention and I saw people around me being sent back to their home countries. Three of my acquaintances from Gaza were sent back to Gaza via Egypt, they were deported to Egypt and Egypt delivered them at the Rafah crossing to the Hamas, after awful imprisonment and interrogation by the Egyptian military.
I waited for a couple of days and left to Belgium. I tried to take a bus to London but I was stopped by the border police in France because I didn't have a passport. I wanted to claim asylum but they did not let me do it. I found myself in Calais with nothing for 4 months. Once, the police caught me and sent me back to Switzerland. I went through the asylum procedure a second time. They rejected my request and my appeal a second time. The Swiss police emailed me to tell me that I would be taken back to Gaza and this is what prompted me to go to Finland for safety and protection.
But the story repeated itself; after about 40 days, I was denied asylum and asked to leave Finland and return to Switzerland. I tried to appeal but once again, appeal was not effective. I was deported back, even though Switzerland had refused my request three times, put me in jail several times and I am under the threat of being returned to Gaza even if my life is at threat there. I was deported back to Switzerland from Finland, even if it meant that I would face one and a half year in detention in Switzerland or a deportation to Gaza that is synonymous with death.
When I arrived in Switzerland, to punish me, they sent me to a camp for a week. Now I am being diagnosed with a lung condition and I'm still in a camp. How long will this suffering continue?
Ladies and gentlemen, I appeal to you, to your humanity and to your moral and humanitarian conscience to help me to stop this suffering. My family and I would welcome an opportunity to live a peaceful and dignified life. Please stop sending me back to Switzerland and be aware that when I will be granted a leave to remain somewhere, I will be a faithful contributor to the community, a hard worker and an example of discipline, law and order.
Ladies and Gentlemen, I have given you some record of what I have suffered. I am now 44 years old and have been in Europe for 3 years. I hope that you will kindly accept this complaint and consider my case. I thank you very much for your consideration. ]
Please accept my thanks and respect,