Safety for a family that fled war in Sudan only to end up in Syria

Telling the Human Story, 26 August 2013

After fleeing war in Sudan and ending up amidst a new conflict in Syria, a relieved Mohamed and his family are enjoying the transit centre in Romania enroute to a new life in the Netherlands.

TIMISOARA, Romania, 26 August, (UNHCR) After escaping war in Sudan only to get caught up in the Syrian conflict, Mohamed* exudes relief and celebration as he pushes his two children on swings in the playground of their refuge in Romania.

Although the Emergency Transit Center (ETC) in Timisoara, Romania is only a temporary shelter before a permanent move to a new life in the Netherlands, it has provided the safety they urgently needed. Mohamed looks content as daughters Wjud, 7, and Walla, almost 2, laugh. Their mother Muna makes her way through the green courtyard with a bowl of pasta for lunch.

They arrived at the ETC on July 3, after UNHCR identified them as urgently needing protection, and, with assistance from the IOM, helped facilitate the family's transfer to the Timisoara centre.

They may stay for up to six months before resettling in the Netherlands, which has offered them sanctuary. During that time, the family will undergo medical checks, sit interviews with Dutch officials, and complete all formalities needed for the move.

They are even taking classes of the Dutch language, culture and traditions. "We are learning about the country little by little," said Mohamed, pulling from his pocket a tiny mp3 player with Dutch lessons for beginners.

Mohamed and Muna still feel joy at arriving at the ETC, which serves as a gateway for placement in a host of countries accepting refugees. They are far from any war zone, and the prospect of moving to a peaceful country means that they can build a new future.

But the family must struggle with harsh memories of the long journey that brought them to Timisoara. Mohamed escaped from detention in Sudan, and fled to Syria in 2008 where Muna and three-year-old Wjud joined him a year later.

"We came from Darfur, in Sudan," said Muna. "We were in a war zone there. We fled one war just to find ourselves in another." The conflict in Syria started in 2011, the same year she became pregnant with Walla.

At the time, the family was living in a house on the outskirts of Damascus. When bombs exploded in their neighbourhood and the dead began to collect in the streets, they fled into Damascus where Syrian authorities placed them in a converted sports hall with about 750 other refugees.

Muna says life in Syria was terrifying, particularly for the children. Each time a bomb landed, the noise would send Wjud into a state of shock, making her sick. "To this day, when we hear a door being slammed we jump, thinking there is a shell falling," said Muna with tears in her eyes.

On another occasion, Mohamed, Muna and the children were in a taxi at a Syrian military checkpoint when two motorcyclists were shot dead. "Our car got caught in the crossfire and was riddled with bullets," said Muna. "It's a miracle we escaped. Unfortunately, our oldest child witnessed all this..."

After the violence in their past, the family is looking forward to a leap into an unknown but peaceful future. "I don't want them to go through the hardships we've been through," Mohamed said. "For us the most important thing now is to get them into school."

Mohamed, who was a chauffeur in Sudan, would like to become a plumber. Muna, a former teacher of Arabic and religion, hopes to get work in the refugee community in the Netherlands. Their exact future may still be uncertain but they are now safe and from their haven at Romania's ETC, they can see endless possibilities.

*Full name withheld for protection reasons

By Andreea Anca in Timisoara, Romania




Battling the Elements in Chad

More than 180,000 Sudanese refugees have fled violence in Sudan's Darfur region, crossing the border to the remote desert of eastern Chad.

It is one of the most inhospitable environments UNHCR has ever had to work in. Vast distances, extremely poor road conditions, scorching daytime temperatures, sandstorms, the scarcity of vegetation and firewood, and severe shortages of drinkable water have been major challenges since the beginning of the operation. Now, heavy seasonal rains are falling, cutting off the few usable roads, flooding areas where refugees had set up makeshift shelters, and delaying the delivery of relief supplies.

Despite the enormous environmental challenges, UNHCR has so far managed to establish nine camps and relocate the vast majority of the refugees who are willing to move from the volatile border.

Battling the Elements in Chad

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Ahead of South Sudan's landmark January 9, 2011 referendum on independence, tens of thousands of southern Sudanese in the North packed their belongings and made the long trek south. UNHCR set up way stations at key points along the route to provide food and shelter to the travellers during their arduous journey. Several reports of rapes and attacks on travellers reinforced the need for these reception centres, where women, children and people living with disabilities can spend the night. UNHCR has made contingency plans in the event of mass displacement after the vote, including the stockpiling of shelter and basic provisions for up to 50,000 people.

Southerners on the move before Sudanese vote

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Since fighting broke out in Sudan's western region of Darfur last year, more than 110,000 Sudanese refugees have fled into Chad. They are scattered along a 600-km stretch of desert borderland under a scorching sun during the day and freezing temperatures during the night.

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Chad: Relocation from the Border to Refugee Camps

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