Voices

Today Saleema Rehman is  a renowned gynecologist in Pakistan, her homeland, but her story did not begin in an easy way. On the contrary, her birth was difficult and she was expected to die, due to her mother, a refugee, struggling to get medical assistance. 

She struggled against a long series of difficulties and obstacles, mainly due to her refugee birth status, but this never bothered her too much because she was, as she recounts, one of the fewest women sitting at school desks, despite the criticism from her village and the entire community. She stayed loyal to her principles and, after applying for two straight years to university, she finally obtained the only seat reserved annually for a refugee to study medicine in Pakistan’s Punjab province. She later specialized in gynaecology after being selected again for a residency at Rawalpind’s Holy Family Hospital, also in Punjab. 

However, Saleema’s dream was not to just work in the hospital, though the Holy Family complex would have later been declared a COVID-19 first response center. In fact, she had always desired to open her own private clinic to assist many refugee families who couldn’t afford healthcare assistance. Finally, this dream also came true in January this year, when Seleema got the license to open a clinic in Attock. 

“The opening of this clinic was a very happy event for us”, says Anila, one of Saleema’s Afghan refugee patients who couldn’t afford the cost of expensive clinics in her own country. 

At her clinic, Saleema is also promoting hygienic practices and dispelling false myths about COVID-19 vaccines. 

In the end, all her work prompted the UN High Commissioner for Refugees to award her with the prestigious regional Nansen Refugee Award for Asia, an annual prize that honours those  first in line in the fight to help refugees, displaced or stateless people. 

 

Sources: 

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2021/9/614c7fe04/afghan-refugee-doctor-dares-women-girls-dream.html

 

Author: Pasquale Candela; Editor: Valentina Cova

40-year-old Suabo had to flee northern Mozambique following non-state armed groups attacks that took place close to her home in Palma. These attacks had her frantically join other fleeing villagers, and in the ensuing panic and chaos, jump onto a ferry boat carrying several other people along with her daughter and niece. She recalls those minutes of pure terror claiming “From the boat, I could see armed men shooting at people. We managed to escape, but many other boats stayed captive”. The situation in northern Mozambique couldn’t be more critical.

OCHA reports the armed conflict in northern Mozambique continued to escalate in the first half of 2021, driving widespread displacement and a rapidly growing humanitarian crisis. The number of people internally displaced by the violence increased from 172,000 in April 2020 to over 732,000 people by the end of April 2021. Additionally, the attack on Palma on 24 March 2021 and following clashes across the district have forced nearly 68,000 people to flee their homes and move to safer areas.

At least 30 percent of people displaced in northern Mozambique have now had to flee multiple times, and the new wave of displacement from Palma since March has uprooted thousands of people who sought refuge in the district after being displaced from other parts of Cabo Delgado. 

The majority of the displaced families are staying with relatives and friends but for people like Suabo who have no relatives, there are transit centers set up by the government, where people receive food assistance, sleeping mats and blankets. However this doesn’t solve Suabo’s main worry: part of her family stayed behind in the rush to safety and their current state is unknown. 

 

Sources:

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2021/4/606d8e7d4/took-biggest-gift-life-family.html 

https://reports.unocha.org/en/country/mozambique/ 

https://reporting.unhcr.org/sites/default/files/Mozambique%20IDP%20Response%20update-23%20August%202021.pdf 

 

Author: Benedetta Spizzichino

As fighting between government forces and rebel groups continued in the Central African Republic (CAR), Zara and her four children walked for a day to arrive near the border of Chad.

Once there, Zara, 30, crossed the border into Chad and arrived at Doholo refugee camp, in the town of Choda: “I had some savings which I took with me, and I was already selling crepes back in my country,” Zara said. “I needed to do something to cover the needs of my children, to feed them, put clothes on them. I need to give them a better future, even if we are in exile.[…] Now I prepare doughnuts to sell, so I have  a way to look after my children”.

Fighting erupted in Central African Republic (CAR) in 2013, after rebels ousted President Francois Bozize. Since then, the country has experienced devastating violence that has forced close to 1.5 million to flee and sight refuge in neighbouring countries such as Chad, Cameroon, the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

According to the United Nations High Commissioer for Refugees (UNHCR), 221,694 Central African Refugees are currently living in the DRC. However, only 26% of these refugees live in the four refugee camps managed by UNHCR in North and South Ubangi Province; in fact the majority live on riverbanks in hard-toreach border areas, often within host communities with limited resources. Their living conditions are dire. They often have little or no access to clean water, sanitation facilities, or food. came after last December’s presidential and parliamentary elections and displaced 250,000, many within their own country. Others, like Zara, have sought refuge in neighbouring countries such as and elsewhere.  

 

 

Sources:

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2021/4/60633e4d4/chad-central-african-refugee-keeps-hope-alive.html

Imagine receiving a call from your spouse and being told to take your three daughters and run away from your village due to an attack, with no clear destination in mind, walking for two days to reach the next town. This represents the ordinary life of most Mozambican internally displaced persons (IDPs) and refugees, whose lives are disrupted from one day to another due to recurring attacks and violence by non-state armed groups since October 2017.

This episode of “Voices” focuses on the story of Maria, 31-year-old Mozambican, mother-of-three, who was forced to flee her village in Mocimboa the Praia, in northern Mozambique, in March 2020. Her journey included swimming with her three children, witnessing others not making it, walking for two days to reach the town of Quitunga, 15 kilometres south of Palma. Maria was luckier than other IDPs: she stayed with relatives and had a roof over her head and food. Only three days after her arrival, new shootings forced her and her children to leave by boat to reach Pemba, the capital of Cabo Delgado province, where nearly 700,000 people are displaced.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)’s support has been essential to provide protection services and relief items (sleeping mats, blankets, screening and identifying the most vulnerable). However, UNHCR works for communities, but also with communities. In this regard, Maria has volunteered to help the UN refugee agency to explain the importance of COVID-19 and cholera prevention measures to new arrivals. She does so by preparing water buckets for people to wash their hands and having focus groups and training sessions with IDPs, which makes a concrete impact on hygiene practices, “little by little”, as she claims. In parallel, her role also includes identifying survivors of gender-based violence and referring them to UNHCR for assistance.

To date, Maria still does not have any news of her husband, as all communications from Palma were completely cut off since March 2020. Her biggest hope is for her daughters to finally resume school one day and have a chance to choose their future.

 

Sources:

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2021/4/607d473a4/helping-others-brings-solace-displaced-mother-cabo-delgado.html

 

Author: Barbara Caltabiano

Elodie Kavugho, 41, is a single mother of eight who has fled with her children after her village in north-eastern Democratic Republic of the Congo  was attacked by one of the most dangerous armed groups in Beni Territory. She recalls a two days long walk to reach safer spots, Mangina Town in her and her family’s case although having nowhere to stay upon the arrival: “We walked for two days [...] Our feet were sore for a week; we were massaging them every day.” Further, she’s awaited nine months to access a safe accomodation provided by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. 

Nearly two million people have been uprooted by insecurity and violence in North Kivu province alone over the past two years. Despite DRC’s President Felix Tshisekedi launching a state of emergency on 6 May in North Kivu and its neighbouring Ituri province, armed groups continue to devastate civilian lives. 

UNHCR reports that since 22 June, the Allied Democratic Forces (ADF) are alleged to have brutally killed at least 14 people and injured many others in and around the city of Beni. Several properties were looted, and others burned to the ground.  This was the first attack in two years by the ADF on the city, and the group’s resurgence is terrorizing the lives of inhabitants, as well as Elodie’s too. 

As brutally unfair as it is, Elodie’s case is not an exception. In fact, the number of families fled from Congo keeps arising. Those who manage to have a secure roof over their heads often happen to host a large number of displaced people in their houses. It is the case of Kahambu Mwavuli, 57, who barely has any space left in her house in Oicha in Beni Territory, with more than 25 people, including her own family of seven and the displaced people she has taken in, currently crammed into her small home.

 

Sources:

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2021/7/60f1311f4/forced-homes-displaced-congolese-dire-need-shelter.html 

UNHCR - Attacks by armed group displace 20,000 civilians in eastern DRC

Congolese PM assesses the situation in North Kivu and Ituri | Africanews

 

 

Author: Benedetta Spizzichino

Maryam is another victim among an estimated 270,000 Afghans who have been newly displaced inside the country of Afghanistan since the start of this year by an upsurge in violence. She’s now found shelter in Nawabad Farabi-ha camp on the outskirts of Mazar-e Sharif city, along with her four children. 

While sitting inside her tent, she recalls those endless moments of fear and panic that her flee has meant. Having been forced to move four times in the span of a few years due to internal clashes, her children are unable to attend school and are dressed in worn clothes covered in grime and dust.

The United Nations report that at the beginning of 2021, half the population of Afghanistan – including more than 4 million women and nearly 10 million children – were already needing humanitarian assistance. One third of the population was facing crisis and emergency levels of acute food insecurity and more than half of all children under 5 years of age were malnourished. Those needs have risen sharply because of conflict, drought and COVID-19. Since the end of May, the number of people internally displaced because of conflict and in need of immediate humanitarian aid more than doubled, reaching 550,000.

Recently, Taliban militants retook Afghanistan's capital, almost two decades after they were driven from Kabul by US troops.  Although Afghan security forces were equipped, they put up little resistance as Taliban militants seized much of the country following the withdrawal of US troops beginning in early July. People like Afghan President Ashraf Ghani had enough luck to flee the country, abandoning the presidential palace to Taliban fighters, but those people are very few in comparison to those who couldn’t escape and were left behind, just like Maryam. 

 

Sources:

https://edition.cnn.com/2021/08/16/middleeast/taliban-control-afghanistan-explained-intl-hnk/index.html 

UNHCR - UNHCR warns that humanitarian needs in Afghanistan cannot be forgotten

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2021/7/60f008f54/displaced-afghan-family-struggles-cope-amid-latest-violence.html 

 

Author: Benedetta Spizzichino

Brukti has been forced to flee Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region, alongside thousands of others. She worked as a nurse for four years before the violence erupted and forced her to flee her village close to Adwa. “When I heard that people were being killed, I fled together with my son. We saw dead bodies in some of the villages that we travelled through”. As soon as they reached Mekelle, she immediately started volunteering at the site where they found shelter, by providing vital healthcare to other displaced.

Now Brukti is volunteering in a small room stone cottage in Mekelle where over 1,800 displaced people are living, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). UNHCR has also established ‘protection desks’ in 38 sites in Shire and Mekelle, where displaced people can access vital services and information get psychosocial counselling by UNHCR staff.
Brukti and 15 other trained nurses are volunteering at the small makeshift health centre with the lead doctor from the Regional Health Bureau in Mekelle: “I’m happy to help my community in this critical time, but my hope is for peace to be restored so that I can hopefully see the rest of my family again,” Brutki says.

Across the Tigray region, the conflict has severely impacted the lives of refugees, internally displaced people (IDP) and civilians. In fact, the humanitarian situation in the Tigray region is worsening dramatically due to the constrained delivery of humanitarian assistance. Both refugees and the internally displaced are experiencing a lack of food, water and proper shelter. Despite the challenges and the ongoing hostilities, humanitarian partners continue to scale up the response but according to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) at least 5.2 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance.


Sources:
https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2021/7/60daa5954/displaced-nurses-provide-vital-health-care-others-displaced-ethiopias-tigray.html  
https://data2.unhcr.org/en/working-group/284 
https://news.un.org/en/story/2021/09/1099022 

A microphone, a headset and a powerful story to be told. This is what it takes to turn fear into opportunities, and this is also the aim of the radio show “Good morning, Yaoundé”, run by refugees who seek to narrate their life journeys. Emmanuel Ambei, 30 years old, Chadian refugee student now living in the Cameroonian capital of Yaoundé, is among the students who make it possible. Thanks to a small grant from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Emmanuel and other refugee students committed themselves to run a radio program spreading awareness on refugees’ plights. “Our objectives are to be able to make refugees speak, to make them known to others and to the world”, says Ambei.

The programme includes field reports and studio interviews. On the one hand, Emmanuel and his fellows record refugees’ lives in camps and urban areas, witnessing the scarcity of work, but also the welcoming feeling of the refugee community toward the group of trained journalists. On the other, the shy voices of refugees would be recorded. Emmanuel claims that they are all connected: not only each story is equally touching, but it also teaches him something new about the lives of refugees in Cameroon, especially of those living in non-urban areas, that are known to have fewer opportunities in terms of education, jobs and healthcare.  

Aired on the main public radio station of Cameroon in June, the project is expected to be expanding soon to other French-speaking African countries. In addition to the primary focus of the project, young refugees are challenging themselves and are creating opportunities: they are being trained in the field of journalism and communication by the International Council of French-speaking Radio and Television (CIRTEF) professionals. This is the case of Mabel, who sees the needs of her refugees brothers and sisters and now nurtures the idea of working in the humanitarian field.

 

Sources:

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2021/8/6114ed884/good-morning-yaounde-refugees-mic.html

https://www.africanews.com/2021/06/20/refugees-in-cameroon-use-the-power-of-media-to-highlight-their-plights/

https://reliefweb.int/report/cameroon/good-morning-yaound-refugees-take-mic

 

Author: Barbara Caltabiano

Linda, 22, and Xolie, 19, being a refugee, know it very well. They are some of the lucky refugee students to get scholarship opportunities to continue their higher education. In 2008 Xolie fled social turmoil in Zimbabwe with her mother and sister while Linda left Burundi for South Africa with her mother in 1998 to again escape to Botswana 10 years later. “It’s hard being a kid in a refugee camp,” affirms Xolile. However, she is lucky as some of her friends have been resettled to a third country, or are back in Zimbabwe. “Life feels more secure than it did before coming to university… we can make plans for the future,” says Linda.

Many refugees in Botswana excel in their studies. Unfortunately, their options after secondary school are limited as the Botswana government only offers full or partial scholarships to their own students and not to the refugees. So the refugees have to go back to their camps where the job opportunities are limited.

Similarly, like many other nations, Botswana is also suffering from COVID 19 pandemic and as happens in difficult times, the females are paying a higher price for it. They are in danger of being forced to get married early or go into child labour to alleviate the poor economic situation of their families.

The United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and Skillshare are working together to provide scholarship opportunities for high-performing refugee students. These international organizations are partnering with higher education institutions and private sectors in Botswana to offer such opportunities. This progress is a recent achievement and is expected to multiply in the years to come.

 

Sources:

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2021/6/60b7abab4/hope-opportunity-refugee-students-botswana.html 

 

 

Author: Giulia Francescon; Editor Shrabya Ghimire

 The rusty, white walls of Solomon Alema’s room are covered in art. Five giant posters and one human-sized painting tower over the humble space. He’s sitting on the floor, dragging his paintbrush down to accentuate his new painting with color. There’s a cluster of clean sketchbooks and vibrant-colored art materials that surround him, illustrating a stark contrast to his dark-lit temporary shelter. For Solomon, his priority isn’t the state of his refugee life, but the safe haven he finds in the comfort of his art.

Solomon is a 29-year-old Eritrean refugee in Tripoli, Libya. He’s one of the 49,000 registered asylum seekers in Libya, but unlike the others, Tripoli isn’t his end destination. He envisioned a future as a hardworking student and a professional artist far from his home country, thrusting his mother to sell her jewellery and his relatives to support him through financial means. He paid smugglers  $5,500 he had garnered to take him to Europe by boat, but halfway through the journey, the Libyan Coast Guard halted the vessel he was in, putting a stop to his ambitions.

After his release from detention, Solomon developed tuberculosis due to the unsanitary conditions and re-entered another detention center to access medical care that he couldn’t have availed on his own. Now, he resides in a community brimming with support and optimism despite the harsh conditions they’re in.

Access to basic essentials is still a figment of imagination to many. Solomon said that his housemates and friends were worried about the lack of food and financial security as they shared meals and other items among the group. “I honestly would prefer to spend everything I have on materials to paint. But life is very difficult and it is not easy to focus on painting when there are other really important things that are priorities for us, necessities for us to survive,” he said in the report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

UNHCR provides asylum seekers and refugees financial, household, medical, and psychosocial support to make their needs meet. Together with the UN World Food Programme, the agency will provide food assistance to around 10,000 refugees and asylum seekers until the end of the year especially to those who lost their jobs due to the pandemic and cannot afford to provide for themselves.

While waiting for the said support, Solomon continues to immerse himself in his creative sphere. It’s obvious that there’s a pervasive theme that stands out in every artwork he paints. Each vividly-drawn creation is embellished with biblical motifs and references. “We don’t have any place to pray here in this country. So we use these pictures,” said Solomon. “When people pray, it gives them hope. Using this painting to pray helps them with their faith and makes them feel they are protected from danger.” 

Art has paved a way for Solomon, who has no formal art training, to find the strength to wake up every day. Instead of keeping it to himself, he exposes it to his community to shower hope and light, inviting everyone to favor faith as a weapon against the hostile setting they live in.

 

Sources:

https://www.unhcr.org/news/stories/2020/6/5ef1e85f4/art-provides-comfort-hope-eritrean-refugee-libya.html

https://reporting.unhcr.org/node/12003#_ga=2.137798389.412294645.1593941709-892549232.1593359228

https://www.wfp.org/countries/libya

 

Author: Matthew Burgos