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  • Writer's pictureVoices Without Borders

Muhammad Abunada's Story

Updated: Jun 15, 2020

“I thought I would be safe but later on I realised; I just moved from a small prison to a bigger one.“

Sorry, I have nothing with me in my room in Malta to symbolise my Palestinian identity after fleeing the Gaza Strip. Soilders at the Israeli border would reject my passage if I carry anything Palestinian-related in my luggage.

I have nothing here which can represent myself.

I am Muhammad Abunada, a 30-year-old Palestinian from Gaza, a refugee in Malta. I applied for asylum two years ago and was rejected twice by the Office of the Refugee Commissioner in Malta, even though I am a political detainee threatened by the Hamas militias, a Palestinian Sunni-Islamic fundamentalist militant organisation.

I was arrested by Hamas in Gaza, with an accusation that I had support from Ramallah (West Bank) to be part of the protest. After Hamas took me to an unknown place by a bus without any window, I was tortured for two days in a prison-like cell, alone. With their faces covered, they used to beat me and insult me, particularly when I didn’t answer the questions I was asked.

I want to help you do your project, please.
Can you help me amplify my voice?

I have lived through three wars in Gaza and witnessed the houses of my beloved sister and brother being demolished. The severe threat from Hamas I received prompted me to leave my home, Gaza, a place where it’s incredibly beautiful but too difficult to live.

I tried to cross the Rafah, the border between Gaza and Egypt, but I was deported as the border is controlled by Hamas. Afterwards, my brother helped me to find a way to travel through the Erez crossing between Gaza and Israel, which is not under Hamas’ control. However, the condition for my travel is that I would not be able to return to Gaza. I had no choice but to agree with it.

In the spring of 2018, after a long journey through Jordan and Turkey, I finally landed in Malta to seek refuge.

I thought I would be safe but later on I realised; I just moved from a small prison to a bigger one.

Even though I have been through all of this, my asylum application was rejected twice.

In the interview for the appeal after my first rejection, I felt like my lawyer and the committee were just having me there to show they gave me a second interview on paper. In fact, the lawyer told the committee in 5 minutes about what I went through for years and what I explained to him in hours. Unfortunately, my case got rejected again, which was on the 27 of February, during Covid-19.

Due to the lockdown, I couldn’t continue with the legal work at court. Malta’s authorities asked me to hire a private lawyer to defend myself. My cousin accompanied me to meet a lawyer for half an hour. The lawyer then asked for 3,500 euros for the whole case. I didn’t know the fees would be this high. Of course, we declined as I can’t pay that much. Then the lawyer sent the invoice to my cousin for 590 euros in regard to our initial meeting, in which we only explained my case in order to get the lawyer on board.

I live in very difficult days in Malta. I still don’t feel safe even though I already left Gaza. Hamas is still after me, prosecuting me. Hamas released a warrant of my arrest in 48 hours and continuingly harassed my family in Gaza. My brother sent me the warrant by email for my second appeal, to help persuade the committee that my life is still in danger.

I have reached out to another lawyer but I am still not able to appeal my case because of the lockdown.

I am not afraid of the coronavirus itself but the delay of my asylum application did piss me off.

In the meantime, my work permit expired as the court also closed down. I need to renew my work permit from time to time as I only hold a temporary residency. Since 20 February, I have been facing illegal residency status; since March, I am not able to send money back to Gaza to support my sister’s education. My work at my cousin’s bakery has been affected by Covid-19. The salary was reduced to two thirds of that with the previous standard.

I feel I’m disabled in a sense that I have no power. I don’t feel like an ordinary person who can pursue life. No one wants to leave their family and the place where they were born.

I only do this out of necessity, trying to push through this hardship and keep hope on a better life. I feel I am still imprisoned in Malta. The humanitarian image touted by European nations is not as idealistic when it comes to practice.

Fortunately, I have some friends here to support me, most of them are Arabs, and some are foreigners. I tried to attend English-language classes to keep active. However, I stopped going to classes because I feel every day I need to carry my asylum case on my back. I found it too hard to keep motivated when learning English as I don't know where I'm going to be the next day……

I came to Malta, not to pursue the black market. I pay taxes at the end of every month when I work. I'm not here to seek asylum to just receive help, services, or support. I'm here to work, to earn income, and gain an applicable life.

I don’t want to live on a parallel side in society, I want to have a legal status so that I can be productive, be active, living as a person within the society. I didn't just leave my home because I want to, but because I need to.

I want to get my voice out and keep my story loud so people can listen, and hear this sort of unheard story.

Hopefully, anyone who reads my story can help me or anyone who’s in this situation.

Can some countries help me with my asylum if I am rejected by Malta?

Post-interview notes: 

Muhammad reached me out via Whatsapp after an hour I posted the information of the project on a facebook group of a refugee-initiated NPO based in Malta. He communicated with me on Whatsapp for half an hour until I knew he used Google Translate to speak to me. He doesn’t speak English but is so eager to share his story. I appreciate he gave us a group of strangers profound trust. This May, at the time we had an interview with him, was the 71st anniversary of the 1948 war that Palestinians marked as “al Nakba”, or “the disaster”. He’s not able to honour this day in his homeland, with his family. It is also the first time after 70 years that most Palestinians around the world can only remember this day via online meeting due to Covid-19. 

Muhammad set in his room, where is very tidy but a bit empty, with white lights and a single window, talking to us. When we asked him, “how do you feel right now?” He in front of his laptop, can’t bear but tear up and remained wordless for a few seconds. After the interview, he sent us some documents to show evidence that his story is true. He also borrowed from his cousin a traditional headdress Palestinian Kufiya for a photoshoot.

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