Exile and grieving by Friedrun Medert

Grieving is a personal journey that leads eventually to a kind of rebirth.

The group Almar’a (“woman” in Arabic) is an informal group of Middle Eastern and Swiss women that meets twice a month to discuss topics close to their hearts, especially the concerns of refugees. These get-togethers provide a forum for the women to exchange experiences and get to know one other better.

In response to a request from the participants, a psychologist friend made a presentation to the group about the effects of migration. At the following three meetings of Almar’a, the group discussed this presentation with a focus on the following points:

  • Migration or exile equals trauma. Being torn away from one’s roots may be considered a personal catastrophe similar to having a serious accident or experiencing the loss of a loved one.
  • Homesickness is an expression of the love that everyone has for their origins. Being in exile in the past, even as recently as during World War II, used to mean that refugees were often cut off and without news from their families and friends for several years and unable to contact them. Nowadays, it is possible for refugees to remain in touch with loved ones and friends who stayed behind by telephone, e-mail, Skype, Facebook etc.
  • Refugee children who grow up in a host country such as Switzerland often benefit enormously from their exposure to two cultures, two languages and two traditions—those of their home of origin and those of the host country. In general, children find it easier to adapt to their new life than adults.
  • Refugee couples often face difficulties and challenges due to the contrasting experiences of the wife and the husband. The life of a refugee woman retains a structure dominated by her various roles as mother, wife and homemaker, whereas the refugee man, who generally had a job in his home country, often feels distraught and useless because his traditional roles in the family and in society have been taken away from him.
  • Every family member follows his or her own path in response to life as a refugee. Everyone responds differently and at his or her individual pace, according to variations in character and differences in how one reacts to the challenges faced.

Some advice for coping as a refugee
Acceptance and internal strength help you to deal with exile. In addition, being indulgent and kind toward yourself can help you to face the despondent and sad feelings that are bound to come up occasionally. Give yourself time and don’t raise your expectations too high or demand too much of yourself.

Do not be ashamed to be a refugee. On the contrary, you should be proud of the courage you mustered to undertake this journey against all odds, the journey towards exile and the unknown. You need to learn a new way of life, but you should also hold onto your previous life, as it is precious baggage that will always be part of you. It is important to maintain the continuity of your life’s journey by bringing together your life before and your life after the traumatic event of exile.

Learn to treat yourself with the same goodwill and empathy that you would give your children or a good friend who is grief-stricken. Against the odds, every new day brings a new glimmer of hope through simple pleasures: a cup of coffee with a friend, a phone call to a loved one, a new friend brought home by your child.

When problems seem overwhelming, but the possibility of consulting a psychologist is not part of your culture, nor is sharing your troubles with someone outside the family, you can trust the group Almar’a to offer you a warm welcome and an open ear.

Atelier Almar’a
Meetings are organised around subjects proposed by the participants, a group of Swiss and Middle Eastern women. The concerns of refugees are central.

Meetings, which are informal, take place twice a month on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays, from 10:00 am to 12:00 noon, in the offices of AMIG (Pôle insertion-intégration – Unité action intégration), rue Jean-Charles Amat, 3rd floor, Geneva (Pâquis neighbourhood).

If you would like to meet other women, Swiss or immigrant, to share your experiences and listen to one another, if you are looking for information and practical advice, then Atelier Almar’a is for you!

Mothers are welcome to bring along their small children.

For more information or to register, contact one of the coordinators, Mouna, Friedrun, Anne Claude or Suzanne, at the following e-mail addresses:

Don’t hesitate to share this information with your friends and invite them to join us for a morning of relaxation and conviviality.

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