Ibrahim El-Khatib came to Denmark as a refugee in 1990. Now he is the Head of an IT department, chairman of a community board and newly elected member of the Danish Red Cross Governing Board.
By Marion Chen
Ibrahim El-Khatib is a Palestinian refugee from Lebanon. He used to stay in the asylum centre for two years and four months. Now he is the head of IT and Internal Service in Red Cross Asylum Department. And in October he was elected as a member of the Danish Red Cross Governing Board.
The Way To Denmark
At the age of twenty three, Ibrahim El-Khatib came to Denmark in 1990. He was studying civilian engineering in Poland, but he could no longer go back home in Lebanon because of the civil war. “I had to find somewhere else to live, so I came to Denmark,“ says Ibrahim El-Khatib.
Ibrahim El-Khatib applied for asylum in Denmark and got asylum granted after two years and four months. He has stayed in three centres, first in Sandholm, then Rødby and then in Holbæk. There was nothing for him to do in the asylum centre at that time, just sitting there and waiting. While describing the life in the asylum centre during that time, Ibrahim El-Khatib says, “ Two years and four months waiting time – it was like hell.”
Do Not Give Up
But no matter how hard the situation was in the asylum centres, Ibrahim El-Khatib did not give up his hope of life. He used his time to learn Danish while waiting. However, there were not many language classes in the centre, only once a week. So he learned and practiced his language with the Red Cross staff in the office.
In 1992, when he got his asylum granted, he could speak a little Danish. He knew that was not enough for the further study or looking for a job. He needed more language skills. So he went to the language school to improve his language.
At that time, he had almost forgot all about the civilian engineering. He then planned to start something new, focusing on what was the trend of the world. He found out that computer technology was the trend which might help him find a job and develop himself, and he decided to study computer in 1994. He should first have a certificate of high school qualification for the computer science, so he had to go to a gymnasium for one year. In 1995, he became a student from Roskilde Business School and graduated in 1998. “One month before I graduated, I got the position in Red Cross. They needed a webmaster who could speak Arabic. I applied the position and I got it. And now I am still here,” says Ibrahim El-Khatib.
In Denmark, you have to fight
He had his plan for the future from the very beginning. He is now the head of the IT and Internal Service office, and have 20 people in his department. Furthermore, he is one of 16 in the Governing Board developing the whole strategy for the Red Cross in Denmark. “The only thing you need is to believe yourself,” says Ibrahim El-Khatib, “I will never give up and I did not give up since I came to Denmark. Now I got everything I wanted.”
Some of the newcomers in Denmark think that Denmark will give them everything without doing anything, which they think is the meaning of human rights. “That is wrong,“ says Ibrahim El-Khatib. “Forget about these things. If you have this idea in mind, you will never be a success in Denmark. Fight in the right ways, fight for your duties and for your wishes. Do not wait for others to give it to you. In Denmark, you have to fight.”
Ibrahim El-Khatib thinks that newcomers should know what they want to be in this country and try to struggle to change their mentality from the homeland. For example, most people do not want to spoil what they have learnt in their homeland and want to look for a job based on their previous professions. But unfortunately, most cannot find such a job.
“People might think they should not work as an office staff because they have a high education. It’s not the right way, “ says Ibrahim El-Khatib. “You have to make your life a little bit flexible.”
“In Denmark, if you are 80 years old, you can still study for whatever you want, ”says Ibrahim El-Khatib. He finished his leadership diploma which he started to learn at the age of 46.
Ibrahim El-Khatib speaks Arabic in his family, but he speaks Danish, English and Polish in the public or working places. He did not experience any racism in Denmark. He shows to the Danish people that he is one of them. “I show them that we are the same,” says Ibrahim El-Khatib. “Now I have a very high position but I will not misuse it. If i misuse it, people would say that this man is just coming to steal our jobs or take our positions.”
Be yourself and be equal, this is the belief of Ibrahim El-Khatib. He has traveled with the Red Cross and helped people all over the world in a department which is called Emergency Response Unit.” I have been to so many places in the world and helped a lot of people,” he says.
Integration is not about rules
According to Ibrahim El-Khatib’s view, integration is not something that you can create by sitting somewhere in a government building and come with some rules. You have to go to the street and talk to people, ask them what they need, what they have to do, to help them to reach their goal, especially when they are new in Denmark. “That will help very much with the integration,” he says.
Ibrahim El-Khatib used the same method in Høje Tastrup, the area where he lives and he thinks that it helps. The criminal record used to be about 32% in this area. Last year and this year there has been no criminal things anymore. “Because we have talked to people, asking what they want and what they need,” he says. “We have done something to resolve their problems, not just using some rules from somewhere. The right way for the integration is to talk to people and help them.”
Ibrahim El-Khatib is 49 years old and lives with his family. In 1994 he married a Palestinian woman and they have three daughters. The elder one (21 years old) and the middle one (19 years old) are both volunteers at Red Cross. The youngest is 14 years old. “They love their father,” he says with a happy smile.