Today, I saw a picture of a young boy who promised to tell you about the world’s cruelties. He was covered in blood, and I could see he was crying very badly in that picture. I don’t think you met him or heard his complaints because people are still fighting each other; so many people are dying every day, and there is war, battle and displacement. I know displacement is a big word for a ten-year-old like me, but Jeffrey taught me this word.
Jeffrey is a guy who is always carrying a big camera and listens to our stories; in fact, he is the one who is writing this letter to you. My name is Yusuf; I am named after the most beautiful prophet of our religion. I wish I was named after someone who did not look very good because after I got displaced from my country Afghanistan and started living as a refugee in a neighbouring country whose name Jeffrey will not write, anybody who called me cute ended up hurting me very badly. For a piece of flatbread or burger, I could not walk for days; this happened so often. This is not my story alone; Umar, Zubair, Ishrat, Bilqis, Akhlaq, and many more faced nightmares that scathed their soul.
Jeffrey works in a big organisation for children, and his data confirms that more than 36 million children were uprooted from their homes by the end of 2021. Every one out of eight international migrants is a child like me. I don’t know the difference between a refugee and a migrant; I just know one thing; I don’t have a place called home. Of course, I live in a big building now, all of us call it home, but this home is nothing like the one I grew up in.
The pebbles I collected from the fields, gun shells and pistachio shells, chocolate wrappers, and cut-outs of my favourite personalities from the newspapers were my national treasure. But now, my treasure is also lost, just like my family and home. When we first got displaced, the worst thing was…well, there was not just one but too many worst(s). We didn’t have any proper place to pee or excrete, so many girls cried out of stomach aches because either they caught a thing called UTI or someone caught them when they went to clear their bladder early morning.
Children have been suffering for a long time. Whenever there is a war, women and children are most affected because maybe, we are too weak and vulnerable. I don’t know why Jeffrey’s blue eyes sparkle with fresh tears whenever he meets the family members of children like us.
There are so many parents who don’t want to take us back, especially the girls; these girls are often married off very early to ease the burden of their parents. Jeffrey thinks it is brutal to marry a girl aged eleven or twelve to someone almost her father’s age. He uses a particular term to define such marriages, and I am told very strictly never to utter that word which starts with the letter R.
Afghanistan is not the only country of refugee children; there are other countries also; let me tell you their names; I mean, since you are God, you must be knowing all the names, but maybe you are too busy with other important tasks, and maybe you have no idea about countries like Syria, Nigeria, Palestine, pockets of Europe, Iraq, Iran, Yugoslavia and parts of South America too – well, these are the places where migrant children are displaced and left homeless, stateless, without any family, safety or sustenance.
There is also a State that cannot be called a country, but it has seen too many refugees over three decades – Kashmir: doesn’t it have a melodious sound to it? A few years ago, a small girl from a nomadic tribe was very badly hurt by some beasts in your home. I want to know where you were then.
Did you also migrate from one house to another? Maybe things were not very pleasant in your temple, and you must have decided to go to a mosque, a church, or a synagogue to rest. Had you been there, I am sure you would have saved Asifa from those monsters.
Jeffrey is once again looking very sad and disturbed. It is I who should feel disturbed and not him because I don’t know where I belong. The lady who checks me every Friday says that I am suffering from a thing called “identity crisis” which is very common among children like me.
Ever since I left my home, I have never felt attached to any one place; I am sure that even if I am taken back to my birthplace, I will feel lonely there. Over the years, I met so many people, tasted different varieties of food, and heard different languages, all these differences form a part of me, and at the same time, I am not a part of any single entity, culture, language, or thing.
Jeffrey told his colleague the other day, “That first displacement displaced all rigidity, prejudice, and biasedness from the system of these migrant children.”
It is very difficult for me to understand what he meant by it. Still, yes, I don’t have one God, two Gods or Three Gods—whenever I see pain, cruelty, death, and destruction, I see so many Gods behind all this—I see you behind everything. I know it is all your doing because there was a time when you created us, and we did not behave ourselves, which is why now you are punishing us and destroying everything.
Dear God, I have no problems with your punishments, but please don’t forget to punish the big monsters and not just the kids alone.