“Happy life: running away from persecution”

(*) this is a real story, but the names of the places of origin, and other places recurring in the story have been changed into HisCountry

Kameron means “happy life”, and this is how his family and friends have been calling him since his childhood. He was born in 1970, in a small town of a country in the Near East (*), where he was raised by his family. His father was a technician in the army, while his mother was a housewife, working full time with her children. Because of his father’s job, he lived in a military base. There, however, he spent the most beautiful part of his life. School and friends took most of his time, and when he did not have to study he would ride his tricycle and play with his friends.

Then the war started, and Kameron left as a child soldier. He was only 16 when he embraced a rifle for the first time. Going to war for his country was considered an honour, and it would offer him better opportunities to get an education, and to get a job. After a short period of military training, Kameron was on his way to the front line, but fortunately in 1987 there was a cease fire.

One evening was enough to change his life. A friend of his went to visit him with a small bottle of alcoholic drink. He never drank, being himself a very strict follower of Muslim precepts. That evening, however he broke the rules for the first time, as he thought that a small alcohol would not be of harm to anyone. The police, however, was somehow informed. Within a few hours he was arrested. He was kept in detention for a month; a month of humiliation and torture. “Who do you work for? Are you a spy? How did you manage to bring alcohol inside the country?” they were persistently asking him while beating him at the same time

Kameron can still remember the very bad living conditions in the prison. “Each of us had a very small cell. There would be times during which they would give us neither food nor water for two or three days. Fortunately sometimes it happened that some of the guards would throw some pieces of bread at us. We could not even contact our families…”

At the end of the month he was finally taken to court. The Judge found Kameron guilty of importing and drinking illegal beverages. The penalty was 160 lashes, eventually reduced to 80.
Many times, while his back was being lashed, he thought he would have died. Kameron lost consciousness several times during the inhuman punishment. At the fortieth stroke the executor took a break, and Kameron thought that the torture was finished… The eightieth lash left Kameron semi-conscious, and in terrible pain, physical and psychological.

Kameron eventually recovered from physical pain, but not from the psychological one; all the torture he had to go through have marked indelibly his life. Although he studied at the university, found work, met and married his wife, Kameron was still haunted by his horrendous experience of the past. He could not recognize himself anymore with the traditions and the way of thinking with which he was raised. He just could not live there anymore

He found work abroad. First it was in Dubai and then Syria. The new experience changed the way he thought about himself, about life.
“Many important things happened in Syria! There is where I heard Christian principles for the first time. I met an Armenian lady, and she has been very nice to me, and gave me a Bible, which I started to read. She also talked to me about the Christian doctrine as she knew it, and I felt much closer to it: repentance, forgiveness, opposed to punishment and pains I had to suffer, because of the way my religion was imposed back at home, as it is today”.

From Syria Kameron came to Cyprus. “ It was not easy …, but I was determined to find a way, for me and my family, to live a better life, without fear, being able to choose for ourselves.”

Once in Cyprus Kameron finally felt free. He was free to think on his own, to have his own ideas and to be able to freely express them. He was free to explore other religious models. He met missionaries from a Christian church and eventually he converted to Christianity. It was in Cyprus also that he got politically involved, publicly expressing his dissent to HisCountry regime, as he protested often with other compatriots he met in Nicosia.

In the meantime, the authorities of HisCountry found out about his conversion. His wife, still in the country at the time, and his brother in law were threatened and really scared about this. Kameron knew that he could not go back to His Country anymore. He applied for asylum, and was later able to reunite with his wife, and live together as a family in Cyprus.
As many other asylum seekers he went through the paper work, the interview, and the pressure that weighted on his shoulder as he impatiently waited to know the outcome of his application. Finally the outcome was positive and Kameron was able to live in
Cyprus as a refugee.

The recognition as a refugee, was only the beginning of another struggle; Kameron had to struggle for a job, to have his rights recognized, and to be accepted in the Cypriot community. Even in the free and democratic Republic of Cyprus Kameron felt threatened at times. He has been accused several times by some police officers of bringing people in the island, using his religious conversion as an excuse, and getting money out of it. His good name and reputation were put at stake many times. Worst of all was when one day in 2003, very early in the morning, police broke inside his house, holding a search warrant. His wife, that at that time was pregnant, was abruptly awakened. They turned his apartment up-side-down. His wife suffered a severe shock because of that unexpected and unjustified irruption and violation of basic rights. Few days later at the hospital they reported the loss of their baby.

Kameron had never been formally charged of any of the accusations…
It took some time to Kameron and his wife to recover from all these. It took some time to get to trust his new country. To him it looked liked to have shifted from one persecution to another, but fortunately things got better as time went by.

Today Kameron is the happy father of two wonderful girls. His job pays just enough to allow him to support his family, but he is happy to be able to carry his responsibilities as father and husband. He is also an active member of the Church of his choice, and because of this he is able to help and support other people as well.

“You know,” he told me with a smile, “life is not easy at all…bills, kids, job that does not pay much, struggling to make ends meet, people that does not trust you and are afraid just because you are “different”…many things could be improved…but after all I am happy to enjoy my family, my wife and my kids!”.
And with that smile on his face, enlightened by his eyes, through which many bad moments have been recorded, you can believe him.

written in 2006 by Francesco di Lillo

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