Tag Archives: refugee

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Buba remembers Libya: “Better to die than stay in Ziltan prison”

As soon as you enter Libya you realize at once that everything is just money, even the lives of Africans. If you have enough money to bribe the police they let you go through, otherwise they take you into a storehouse or a garage and beat you up. If you have someone who can send you money you have to hang on just long enough to receive the money transfer, but if there’s nobody who can help you, well, you just have to hope that they will get tired of torturing you before you die, and then at times they let you go.

Other times they transfer you to the prison at Zlitan and in that case perhaps it would be better to die. Everyone knows Zlitan in Libya, Zlitan means fear. Anybody who rebels or tries to get away is savagely punished. Sometimes they hang you up head down and beat you with rods, as if you were a sack, or you are strapped to a table and they whip the soles of your feet. At first it is only painful, but then if they go on too long you stop being human, your eyes glaze over and you forget that you are alive.

When I left Libya I didn’t shed a single tear. There were fifteen of us on that boat, there was a pregnant woman and a child. Then the sea became black, the boat overturned and everything we knew was of no use to us. The sea doesn’t understand things of the land, your clothes and shoes become heavy and pull you down. Only eight of us got to Lampedusa, and all naked. I never knew what the woman was called, and I never will.

I now live in Turin in the occupied ex-Ministry of the Interior houses. Italy is not like Libya, although even here the lives of Africans are not worth much.

In Italy they take your fingerprints and they give you a number. They call you a refugee, they give you a piece of paper and shut you up in a reception centre. Then the centre closes and you are out on the street – the project is finished – and you discover that “international protection” is just two words put together.

Buba is 30 and comes from Gambia. In March, 2013, he took part in Turin together with a hundred refugees like him in occupying the ex-MOI (ex-General Fruit and Vegetable Market) centre where he lives. He is at the moment going to secondary school and hopes to become an electrician.

The story of Bishara / Torino, ex-MOI

Bishara is 27 year old and he comes from Tchad. Since 2013 he has lived at the ex-MOI occupation in Turin, where he found a place to stay along with hundreds of other migrants after the end of the “North Africa Emergency”.

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Sekou Camara

My name is Sekou and I’m 26 years old. I arrived in Italy by way of Lampedusa, but I don’t remember anything of the island, because when I got there I thought I was dead. Before everything started I was in Tripoli. I was working on a construction site when Gaddafi’s militiamen captured me. I didn’t know what they were going to do with me, if they wanted to force me to fight their war or lock me up in a prison. I didn’t ask any questions when they caught me: I was afraid of their rifles and maybe also of what they would say. I discovered that my prison was to be a fishing boat and the war waiting for me was the sea. My place was down below, in the hold, where you couldn’t breathe and the smell of fish was unbearable. We couldn’t even stay dry: we fought against the sea that poured in by throwing buckets of water out through a small porthole. We had been at sea for two days when the boat stopped. It was night. Around us there was just water and sky. “It’s the work of the devil,” someone whispered. As it passed from mouth to mouth, the devil from just a simple word became something real and terrible. We decided to collect everything we had, money, rings, bracelets, and gave it to the sea. Hoping the devil would be satisfied and let us continue on our journey. At the first light of dawn we started to move again. We hadn’t eaten and drunk anything for two days but we were full of hope because we knew we had almost arrived. But after another day and another night at sea we still hadn’t seen land. And we had almost run out of diesel. At that moment a thought crossed my mind: I was going to die. However much I tried to push the thought away, it kept returning. We were all going to die. This thought grew more and more inside me until in the end there was nothing else except this fear. My mouth can produce a lot of languages: I know French, English, Arabic, Wolhof, Pulaar, but I couldn’t pronounce a single word because there is not one that has any sense when you know that you are already dead. I don’t know how much time passed. Voices, people – they didn’t exist any longer, nor did the sea, the smell, my thirst, and the sight of land, of Europe, that didn’t appear. Maybe it was me that didn’t exist.

My heart stopped while they were saving us. “Heart failure,” the doctors said. The only memory I have of Lampedusa is the helicopter that took me away from the island. In Rome I spent two months in a hospital, without ever finding anything to say. There was not one word, a single word, in all the languages I know, that could give any sense to what I had been through.

Sekou Camara comes from Guinea. He arrived at Lampedusa in 2011. After a long period of rehabilitation in hospital he found accommodation in Rome, where he lived for a year working as a tyre repairer. He now lives in Turin and is looking for a job.

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Vitalis’ story

My name Vitalis and I did not want to come to this country. I did not pay any ticket, I chose the sea when the soldiers of Gaddafi, with gun pressed on my face, asked to choose between a boat and a bullet. Leave or die. I was exhausted when I arrived in Lampedusa, the journey had lasted five days and I was wondering what my future would be, it was enough for me to be with my feet on dry land, with the sea behind. I spent two months in the center of Manduria and they told us that this was a temporary destination, we had to be patient, they took our fingerprints and we were given a number. Then one day, with the buses we have been moved to Piedmont, in Settimo Torinese. Our new home was called Hotel Giglio.

At the time Giglio was always empty, we could survive, but every day we were not alive. We had a bed and hot meals and days were all the same but we are not farm animals, we are men. On January 23, the revolt broke out, we were exasperated by the smallest things, that day we blocked the road outside the hotel and the police arrived, the people working there all ran away but we did not want to hurt anyone, just wanted to shout that we are also men, who want to live. After the revolt I have been expelled from Giglio, it was cold in those days and I found that many people like me were on their way. The camps were closing, and we who came from Libya we stood in the streets, in train stations to freeze.
When they told me that a group of refugees was thinking of occupying some blocks of flats, and there were Italians willing to help, I wanted to join them because I do not want to be cared for, I want the opportunity to take care of myself, to feel that I am to decide about my future.

Today, these homes are a small Africa, we are here in six hundred people, we come from 25 different countries and we are learning to live together. At first Ghanaians wanted to be alone with Ghanaians and did not trust anyone else, and so it was for Nigerians and Malians and Eritreans. Now Ethiopians and Tuareg are drinking tea together, Sudanese and Ghanaian divide the expenses and meals. We are all equal here, we’re the ones who came from Libya, the survivors. Even now it is not simple, we live without hot water and no heating, but this is our home and not just a place to stay because from here we stopped being treated like children and we are ready to fight for our rights and the our dignity.

Vitalis is 28 years old and comes from Nigeria, arrived in Lampedusa on August 13, 2011. After the closure of the Emergency reception centers in North Africa , it was found in the street while being beneficiary of international protection . Along with hundreds of other refugees gave birth in the city of Turin employment population EX MOI where he currently resides.

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Looking for a place for happiness

My name is Samuel and I hope that at least this is my place. First I was at  Yaoundé in Cameroon, I lived in a house on the first floor, in the market area. Down below I sold shirts, trousers, clothes of all sorts. The people in the market all knew me and I knew everyone. When the government decided to build a new trunk road we found that our houses and shops were all going to be demolished. So we decided to protest, all the tradespeople of the area, all together, to ask for another place to go at least. The government didn’t like that and I discovered in a few hours that I had become a political criminal.

I fled my country at night and made my way to Nigeria. God couldn’t have abandoned me. Perhaps he just wanted to tell me, I kept repeating to myself, that that wasn’t my place.

In Libya I decided to stop. No, I had never thought that it was the right place, but it had been on the move for months, I had crossed Nigeria, Niger and Algeria, I was exhausted and completely broke. I learned the trade of plasterer and did stucco work, I liked working as a decorator, I fell in love with a woman and we went and lived together. In Libya a foreigner can be almost happy, happy no. There was work, but there was nothing else for us, the Arabs call us Africans, as if they weren’t Arabs too. I didn’t care, all I was worried about was putting together a bit of money in order to go away and start again somewhere else. [twitter_share]You never know when it’s going to be the last day, in the morning you go out and when you return in the evening there is just a crater and rubble and dust.[/twitter_share]

They say it was a missile but who launched it and why I have never found out.

When the war broke out, even the Africans became the enemy: the rebels accused us of being Gaddafi’s militiamen, the royalists of fighting with the rebels. Anyone we encountered would have good reasons to kill us, so we escaped again, always at night. During the crossing I didn’t think of anything, all I kept repeating to myself was that Libya was not my place. From Tripoli to Lampedusa it was a quiet crossing, and after a night at sea, with the first light of day we landed on the island. I remember the Red Cross people and lots of people running up and down the jetty.

Italy is not what I imagined it to be, there’s no work and at times they look at you on the bus as if you were not welcome. But I think that perhaps this is my place, that there must be a sense to all this, that perhaps I am here for my brothers, for our rights. Perhaps I’m also here to tell my story, so that it isn’t forgotten.

Samuel P. arrived in Italy in 2011. When the North Africa emergency programme finished he found himself in the street again and without a home, despite the fact that he had regular refugee status. He and another hundred or so refugees in the city of Turin have occupied the EX MOI buildings where he lives at present.

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I thought ‘it would be terrible for my mother to lose two sons in the same night’, and I left my brother behind.

It was the Italians that built my town, Elabaned, in Eritrea, where I was born 28 years ago. Just in case you’ve forgotten, we were your colony. I’m the first migrant in my family and I’m a marine biologist. I used to spend my days talking with fish, sectioning algae, studying the routes of the shoals of fish, analysing microorganisms in the sea. Day after day I would collect secrets from the waves as the wind played on them. But what there was beyond the sea was what I didn’t know yet, and what I didn’t ask. That was the last mystery to be revealed. To do that, there was no alternative.

I thought I knew the sea and I would observe it from above, from the land. I had to do it for my country when I did my military service, which starts when you are 18 and ends when you are in the grave. My wages were zero, sometimes less than zero. There was no alternative to that, either.

So I started walking. I was lucky because I knew in what direction to go. After 3 days of dust and sun, without stopping, I arrived in the Sudan.  My brother Samuel, who was a mechanic, lived there. Twenty-five years spent hoping. 1,600  dollars a head is the price of hope as far as Tripoli, Libya, and my brother and I made it there. Locked up in a house with another 500 Eritreans, surrounded by men with rifles, we waited. Yes, it was terrible. But I put up with it, because there was no other alternative.

There was the sea in the town, but I didn’t see it. I remained there for one month without even going out to look for it. All 500 of us left the house together: another $1,600, the cost of a second hope on board a fishing vessel. After hours spent in the sea, two boats appeared out of the night. One of them circled around us at a distance of twenty metres or so. And all 500 of us, in the black darkness of the night, started to smile through our clenched teeth. It was as if the darkness had already ended because we weren’t afraid any longer. We’re safe, we shouted. They’re going to come back and pick us up, I said to Samuel. I’ll be able to watch the sea again from the land, I thought. After more than an hour we realized that no one was going to come and save us.

One mile from the coast of Lampedusa we set fire to a blanket to attract attention. It was like lighting a candle in a tomb. A light in the middle of nothing. But there was no other alternative. [twitter_share]The blanket caught fire and we got scared. We all rushed to one side and the boat capsized. Those of us who were still alive began to swim. There’s no point crying water in water. [/twitter_share]

After swimming for three hours I turned and saw that my brother had fallen behind. He said: “Go on, Zerit! Get to land. Call home”. He said: “Bye Zerit”. And I was on the point of fainting in the sea, I couldn’t swim for the two of us, I thought ‘it would be terrible for my mother to lose two sons in the same night – and I left my brother behind. I called: “Bye Samuel”. I, Zerit, am alive because my brother is dead. My last goodbye I said to him at the camp when they showed me a photograph of a body swollen with water. I who spent my life studying the sea, I’ve explored the seabed and recognized the voices of the seashells – did not recognise my own brother. So he died a second death. The day of the funeral I couldn’t wait for the result of the DNA test that would tell me: ”Yes, that’s your brother Samuel”.

Now those people from television are asking me if I’m sad, and if looking at the sea makes me sadder. But it’s you that have got to give me an answer. Tell me why I wasn’t at my brother’s funeral. It was like leaving him in the water a second time. So I abandoned him for a third time. At the refugee camp on the day of the funeral, to which we – brothers, sisters, fathers and mothers – were not invited, it took us a minute to decide and all come together.

When we realized that we couldn’t go to Agrigento, that there would be strangers who would be throwing flowers on shiny coffins of expensive wood, while there were still bodies trapped in the rotten wood of the boat, we understood that they were dying for a second time. We also forced the gates behind which they wanted to keep us locked up that day, we prayed 4 times towards the south, between our fingers we held wild flowers that grew around the camp, and when it came to the hour of the tragedy we all went down to the sea. It was the sea that I asked about Samuel. Hoping that it will reveal this last secret, or that at least his soul may return that day.

I don’t look at the sea any longer. I’ll go anywhere as long as it’s as far away as possible from this island, and Italy. I don’t want to live in a land where my brother was left to fall asleep exhausted among the waves. Don’t call us migrant victims; we are just survivors. I’m alive because my brother is dead. That’s the truth of it, and you haven’t said it yet out loud. Perhaps the Italians want to know, but even if they don’t, they have to hear it all the same. There are 157 stories like this in the camp. You should get to know them all.

Zerit was born in Eritrea 28 years ago. After graduating in marine science he decided to join his brother Samuel in Sudan, with him continue the journey towards Libia, and from Tripoli reach the Italian coast. Samuel died in the sea October, 3rd when he was about one hour away from the coast. Zerit arrived in Lampedusa.

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I didn’t know that giving my fingerprints would have been my sentence

My name is Kaou and I come from Mali. I arrived at Lampedusa from Tripoli in 2011 because I had no other choice. When war broke out I wanted to head for Algeria and return to my country, but Tripoli was under siege and you could neither get out nor in. One day a friend told me that he had decided to go across the sea to Italy and I went with him. I arrived at Lampedusa in May and they put me into the camp, they didn’t treat me badly, but there were a lot of us in there, too many. The days went by and more and more new refugees arrived and no one told you what was happening or how long we were going to remain there. I knew that we had rights in Europe, and that they could issue us with a document. [twitter_share]What I didn’t know while they were taking my fingerprints was that I would never be able to leave Italy, that they would move me from one camp to another, and that in the end I would find myself in the street.[/twitter_share]

The reception centres are always hidden, a long way away from people. I wanted to get to know Italians and their way of life, but it seems as though we were supposed to have a life apart from anyone else. Before there were many things I didn’t know, and I think that many Italians still don’t know them. When I was in the Settimo Torinese camp, they gave the Red Cross 42 euro a day for every refugee and when the cold weather came we couldn’t even have a jacket. To get mine I had to work for a week. My boss was a Moroccan, I went out in the morning with a trolley and collected plastic from the rubbish skips, from 5 in the morning to 5 in the afternoon. For a week of work he paid you 40 to 50 euro and with that money I bought myself a jacket at the market at Porta Palazzo. The end of the North Africa emergency wasn’t the end of our problems, it was only the end of the money. “The camp is shutting down, you are all out in a week”. It was February and it was still cold, so I began to sleep in stations and dormitories, then I decided to escape to France to find a job and somewhere permanent to sleep. I have documents in Italy, I have international protection, instead in France I was a sans papiers. I worked as a painter, without paying taxes, for a few month, then I had to come back. “Your fingerprints are in Italy”, they tell you and take you back to Ventimiglia. Anyway in Libya it’s very different. There foreigners have no rights, nor papers. You can find work, the police pretend they don’t see you; but if a Libyan does something to you, it’s you that is arrested because being foreigners is the greatest crime. It Italy they say that we are all equal and we have many rights, but most of the time they are not respected, so sometimes it’s the same.

Kaou is 25 and comes from Mali. He came to Lampedusa in May 2011 and can’t return to his country because while he was in Italy Mali was torn by a bloody civil war. He lives at the moment in Turin with no fixed abode.

A life as an invisible

My name is Hassan and I live at the Lingotto, even if everyone calls it EX MOI here, the place where the foreigners live. Perhaps nobody is interested to know how they live but I am one of them and so I want to tell you about it. It’s hard living here, day after day, without work, without heating, without hot water. We’re not hiding here, we came from the sea, to Lampedusa, to Pozzallo; we all have documents and this makes our situation even more absurd, and us more and more tired of it. I have often thought of going to another country, where you can live better, but we have left our fingerprints here and we’ve had to learn about the Dublin Convention and understand that we can’t leave Italy. The Convention kills and I ask myself how Europe can have a law that kills foreigners like us a little at a time, we are just poor people, we haven’t been able to live in our countries because of war and famine. How could we know that we would find the same on the other side of the Mediterranean. [twitter_share]At times when you are walking along you see that people have crossed  the road to the other side because they have just seen you, perhaps they are scared of the colour of our skins or we remind them of someone who robbed them once.[/twitter_share]

Among us there are good people and bad people and that’s the same among Italians too, but I don’t cross the road. This has no sense. Before Italy I had never seen anything like it. You feel like stopping and shouting: “ Come over here! I want to tell you about us!”, but perhaps they would hurry on even faster and so you don’t say anything and you think that it wasn’t the right time to say it anyway. I’ve decided that I want to write, to tell our story to everyone, even to us. Perhaps through poetry, or a theatrical work. I’m not going to write to become famous, my name is of no importance, I want everyone to forget it and remember only what I write and that it was written by one of us. I hope that many people who live like me will want to do the same. The truth about us is unknown, invisible, and many people don’t even ask themselves “why is that person grubbing around in the rubbish or collecting things that other people are not interested in any more?”. The truth about us is something that hurts, and that’s why nobody wants to know but we can’t wait any longer, we must find the best moment to tell it. Hassan is a Somali. He arrived at Lampedusa from Tripoli in 2008 and has lived in Turin since 2010. His dream today is to become a writer. He is currently working on theatrical monologues on the subject of welcome and integration.

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I’m about to become a free man

I migrated in October 2013. On the sea you die like rats, like under the bombs. Even if it is your sea, we’re the ones who drank it, with our lungs. The first Europe I saw from Africa was Lampedusa. The bad days are over now: no more false welcomes, the running away, the scorn, the hunger. My spirit is full of a boat smashed by the waves, and with my spirits so low I have continued on my journey. I left the island, they let me get away, before they took my fingerprints which would have condemned me to remain for ever in Italy. Fingerprints are like handcuffs. You don’t know it, but you are in a cell. I’m a person who if he bows his back, it is only to pick fruit. For the rest, I am like all of us in my nation: even under the bombs we keep our backs straight. I caught a train from Sicily for Milan. From Milan I kept heading further north. It was Europe I wanted, and now I have it. I arrived with another hundred in Norway. Here the world doesn’t need to wait for tomorrow to have a mixed skin. Here the years to come are no longer a hypothesis for me. I have a right to political asylum here. I am about to become a free man. This photograph was taken and sent by a migrant who arrived at Lampedusa in October, 2013, and who is now in Scandinavia.

I come from Central Syria

My name is Eyam. I arrive from 25 days. I’m living in a bad situation. Because they don’t told us how much we need to go out from the island, and it is not a human place and there is no food, there is no good food, no good sleeping, or anything, but the most thing is we need go outside of this island because we need to help our family in Syria. We are a singular. All everyone singular. But the marriage and all the other family in Syria. He doesn’t take care about himself, if he eat or nothing. He think about his family in Syria – they are in a dangerous situation. And they haven’t any food, they haven’t gas to make a fire, because Syria is in winter now, and it’s a cold country. So they told the manager of this camp, we don’t need food, we don’t need sleep here, we want to go out to find a good situation for family, for our family in Syria. They don’t listen to us, and don’t give us any promise, or any chance to go out of the island.
They doesn’t say any date, and when we ask him… every day, when we ask him every single day we want go, they told us there is no date. We are on strike on Lampedusa, for our good future, for me and for my family, or to the hospital, or to the dead. Or let us back in our boats. After the war in Syria they doesn’t refugees any Syrian people, because we had a beautiful country and beautiful life. But now Syria in now war. And our family there. We cannot take him to any place because all the world close the gates in Syrian face. And the Palestinian one… live in Syria.
I eat a bread, one bread, yesterday, but today no food, just water. My friend – two days without any food! Many people like us. The same date and the same position.
They haven’t a place to sleep, and to sleep good, so that they told the police and the manager of that camp, we don’t want food, we don’t want to sleep. Yes, just hunger strike, again from here, to a good future of from here to die or to the hospital. Because our family in danger. I am not happy to stay here and my little sister… I am not happy to stay here and my little sister and my mother and my father are in a dangerous situation. And the bomb maybe kill him at any moment.

This text was recorded at Lampedusa’s CIE at the beginning of November; at that time the centre had gone over its maximum capacity. As the Centre is only for initial screening, migrants should not be held there for more than 48 hours. Because of the delay in transferring them, some of them had decided to go on hunger strike

I want to go to Norway

Good morning. I am Palestinian. I am here from 14 October. I am not eating from yesterday because I want to go out from Lampedusa. I am here from 24 days. Me and my friends they are not eating, maybe 60 people. We don’t want eating before we go out. A lot of people united. Yesterday we united cards number from 60 people and today we give these cards to Manager because we want to go out. Because today police said a lot of names to go out, but they are coming from some days just. We are coming before them. For this I am sleeping this night outside the room because I want start strike and – raining to me all the night, because this night is very rained. Very bad in the night. From sleeping outside the room, inside service. United cards maybe 17 people, and give to official person, and this official person send this to Roma maybe – manager to come out. People are sleeping outside camp, they go out tomorrow. Manager people 17 names. My name in 17 names. I am waiting my name from 2 week. Every time police want say names my name not talk, because police say go out a lot of Africans and Syrians – and Palestinian people just some people. We don’t know why, but we are – this is very bad. I want to go to Norway because my uncle is in Norway, and I want to stay there. Angry people coming from 14 and 15 October, they go and united, and go to the door because they want to close this, the door camp. And don’t want this … (unclear). But police stay and stop these people. And then? They talk and shout with the police, and the Manager, and the Manager said this from the police, not from me, and said maybe tomorrow, or the day after tomorrow, another list to go out of the camp.

From Eritrea to sleeping on the street in the UK

Anthony was born in Eritrea. When he was 10 his father died and his mother, who was sick, decided to send him to stay with an uncle who lived in Sudan, to save him from being called up for military service. “My father was a soldier, that’s how he died, in combat. My mum wanted to save my life, stop me from ending up the same way.”

Anthony worked for three years in his uncle’s bar, often for gruelling long hours and without ever going to school: “My uncle sent his children to school, but not me.”

The treatment he received from his uncle became even more harsh when Anthony’s mother, who had never recovered from her sickness, died. The boy could see his dreams vanishing day by day. He would have liked to study, have the chance of building a future, so, as soon as he was 14, he decided to run away in search of a place where he could study and grow up. “

Anthony came to Europe when he was little more than a child. He crossed it all alone, from the Mediterranean coasts as far as the United Kingdom. There he stopped and presented a request for political asylum and tried to attend a school.

He hadn’t imagined that it would be so hard to study in Great Britain as well: “A teacher told me that as soon as I had obtained the status of refugee I would be able to attend a school”.

Anthony waited for five interminable years. When the reply came he found that his request had been turned down and that he was no longer eligible for any form of assistance. “Four or five of them took me,” the boy remembers, “and threw me out of the house, with all my belongings.”

“I’m leading a precarious sort of life. At times I have a bed to sleep on, other times I sleep in the street; sometimes I find something to eat and other times I don’t, and often there’s nowhere to have a shower.”

The Refugee Action association, who found out about him and have made his story known, are trying to help Anthony find a fixed place to stay and are helping him to re-present his request for political asylum.

Semret, sold and raped

Semret, 25 years old, is Eritrean. When 20 members of the religious congregation she was part of were arrested and imprisoned, Semret realized that she was in great danger and decided to turn to a smuggler to cross the few kilometers that separated her from the western frontier of Eritrea and get to Sudan. What Semret could not imagine was that her journey would turn out to be a long and terrible nightmare.

Semret fled at night, on foot, in the company of four fellow-nationals who like her were seeking a safe place to live. After walking all night, they reached Sudan and stopped to rest in a vast desert area next to the frontier. It was then that the woman was assailed by a terrible doubt, noticing that their smuggler was making telephone calls and making sure not to be heard. When the small group saw a jeep arriving with three men aboard, it was immediately clear what was happening: they had been betrayed and sold and the traffickers had come to pick up the goods they had just bought.

“We scattered in all directions,” she says , “I was the first to be caught. I tried to get away but they got hold of me again. At which point they beat me and dragged me to their vehicle.” Semret was taken to a small isolated village made up of a brick house and some huts made from straw and mud. She didn’t have anyone to pay her ransom so she remained there for months, at the mercy of her jailers, sinking deeper and deeper into a nightmare from which there was no awakening, in which sexual violence and beatings were the daily norm.

“They came to me any time they felt like it, sometimes they brought me a Cola and a piece of cake and that was how it went on for seven months. When I became pregnant they stopped locking the house and that was when I planned my escape.” Semret covered 40 kilometers on foot before reaching the town of Kassala where finally, thanks to the help of UNHCR she was given a dignified place to stay and above all a psychological support scheme to help her through the dramatic trauma she had undergone.

Today Semret lives in the Kassala refugee camp. Her daughter, who was born in January, she has called Heyabel, which means “Gift of God”.

“I left to avoid marrying my brother, now I help other displaced women”

Mwavita comes from the Democratic Republic of Congo and lives in a Tanzanian refugee camp where she is president of the direction committee. In the last 11 years almost three million people have escaped from the DRC because of the continual violence that has made life in the eastern part of the country impossible, but Mwavita’s story is another kind of escape story, another war, that blew up within the four walls of the house. She was a young girl of 14 when her parents told her that she had been adopted and ordered her to marry her brother. Mwavita couldn’t do that; her brother, even if not of the same blood, was still her brother, and she would never marry him. So what had until a moment before been her family showed themselves in all their true cruel colours: either she married who they said or she would be killed.

Mwavita decided that the only choice she had was to run away. She left her country and sought refuge in Tanzania. In the camp at Lugufu, where she had to re-start her life all over again, by herself, while the community in which she lived had become her new family, she began to show her qualities of leadership and soon with her character and courage had become a point of reference for the other refugee women living in the camp.

Mwavita has been the representative and leader of the refugee women for more than 12 years. “As their leader,” she says, ‘ I always listen to everybody, I organize meetings and share information with the others. I like it when everyone works together to resolve the problems of the community.”. Despite her success, she has had to continually fight against the cultural reservations that the male community have against women: “At meetings, even if I have a good idea, the men always say: Who cares what you think? You haven’t even been to school. So now I am trying hard to make the girls study so that they won’t have to go through what I’ve been through.”

“Believe in yourselves,” is Mwavita’s advice to the young girls listening to her, “I’m a leader above all because I felt that I could be one. In the same way, always remember to have faith in the community and treat everyone with respect because we are all human beings after all.”

Today Mwavita is 47 and is living in the camp at Nyarugusu, She works together with UNHCR, who are responsible for bringing her story to light, in creating emancipation strategies for refugee women.

Badasso: “It’s hard to nurse a baby in a refugee camp”

Badasso comes from Etiopia, but spent many years in a refugee camp in Kenya.

“I’m Ethiopian. In 2003 I escaped from my country because of the political situation. I ended up in Kenya, in a refugee camp, where two years later I was joined by my wife, who had been targeted back home and continually arrested because she was my wife. Our son was born in 2008: it was really hard bringing up a newborn child in a refugee camp. There wasn’t enough food or water, there weren’t the health facilities, you never felt safe, every night there was someone who died and often people broke into the camp and attacked us.”.

In 2011 a chance to change: thanks to the “Gateway Protection Programme”, a re-collocation and welcome programme that involves 750 refugees every year, he and his family were able to move to the UK and re-start their lives from there.

“We began a new lease of life in Great Britain. When we got here I felt we were in the right place in terms of equality and human rights. I don’t have to worry about food for me and the family any more and we have easy access to health care. In a refugee camp you are suspended, there are no opportunities for bettering your education but here I started learning English at elementary level and I’m now at university. Life really is different now.

Badasso, who decided to share his story through the British Refugee Council, now lives in Sheffield in England where he is studying for a degree in Sciences of Development and International Cooperation.

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