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

Telling the Human Story, 26 August 2013

© UNHCR
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

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