I am a Palestinian refugee, born and brought up in Yarmouk Palestinian camp in Syria. Yarmouk camp was founded in 1956, which is when my grandparents moved there from another part of Syria. Over the years it has become a small town for Palestinians, and before the conflict in Syria it was the biggest Palestinian refugee camp outside Palestine. At this time, around 200,000 Palestinian refugees lived in Yarmouk, along with many Iraqi refugees and Syrian citizens. Since the conflict began and Yarmouk was put under siege there are now only around 20,000 people left living there.
My grandparents left Palestine in 1948 after their village was taken by the Israeli army, and we’ve never been given citizenship elsewhere. As I was born a refugee, the feeling of not being at home is part of me.
I came to the UK from Syria at the end of 2010 to be with my wife, Emily. I met her at a party at my friend’s house in Yarmouk, while she was studying Arabic in Syria. We got married in Yarmouk in 2009 and she moved back to the UK, but I didn’t join her for another 14 months as my UK visa application was refused twice.
The People are Drowning by Basel Zaraa
Which way is it? The people are drowning
The people of the diaspora got worn out and died
Which way is it? There is no way
Except to be steadfast whatever you face
He screams: “Is my son dead or in prison?
He is still as young as a flower, I told him to flee but he refused
They plucked him from the height of his youth, sons of this country"
My mother and father are in Damascus (displaced from our home in Yarmouk), and this month three of my sisters made it to Sweden after travelling by boat from Turkey to Greece, and then overland through Europe. My fourth sister has lived in Sweden for two years and before she got there she was in Lebanon and Egypt, trying to find a way to escape.
I now work as a freelance artist, doing graffiti and stencil art for bars in London (including Hiba Express in Holborn, Mini Hiba in Wood Street, Jerusalem Gate in Shepherd’s Bush and Marlo on Tottenham Court Road). I am also a musician and spoken word artist and currently play with (Im)Possibilities, a youth ensemble run by Guildhall School. Through my art and music [lyrics from Zaraa’s latest track can be seen left, and below], I hope to tell my story and the story of my people and their struggle to find a normal and peaceful life.