Global Issues: Hope
Author: Sailea Nerid
The boat is swaying on the waves. It feels like they can break it in pieces any minute. I wonder if that would not be better than the damp darkness we have all been sharing for the past three days. Nobody has the strength or the desire to speak anymore. Occasionally I can hear sobs and groans coming from the human beings packed together as tightly as possible. It’s hard to breathe. The air is not enough, and I can sense the sinister smell of death. How many of us will survive this trip to better life and freedom? Are we going to find a safe harbour, or we will end on the bottom of the sea?
My name is Amal. It means hope in Arabic, and hope is the only thing my family has left. We used to live in a town called Aruk in South Sudan. My father was a tailor, and my mom was taking care of us and the house. I don’t remember a time of peace. We never travelled a lot, never left our town’s area. "Roads are not safe", dad was saying. There were soldiers patrolling, killing people without warning, and kidnapping girls. Some of the roads were mined, and a number of people died being blown up or lost limbs which sentenced them to hunger and despair.
My two sisters and I were not able to go to school regularly because it was not always safe. My mom was telling us things would change and one day the war would be over. We love our land, our small house, our street and neighbours with whom we shared our problems and happiness. My family was never really poor, we always had bread on our table but we got our share of hardship. when coming home.
It’s strange how one can recall great details about days that changed one’s life forever. I remember quite vividly that nasty spot I found on one of my dresses, and that I was trying to remove it while my younger sister, Inaya, was sitting next to me, gossiping joyfully about a boy who was courting our older sister Nihal. Mom and Nihal had left a few hours before, and went to the center of the town since it was a market day, and they needed to buy a lot of things. We heard the screams and people running. I was beyond myself with fear because my mother and sister were out. I didn't know what to do but hug Inaya and wait. Half an hour later dad came back, looking ten years older. He told us he had seen my mom’s body and that she was dead. The government’s soldiers had entered the town looking for rebels, and started shooting at the people. I don’t remember much afterwards. I know dad went out again, and I just sat on the floor listening to my sister crying and the occasional screams outside. It was dark when my father returned with Nihal, or at least a person who looked like her. She didn't say a word. Her eyes were unreadable and empty. Dad told me he managed to sneak her out of a group of young girls the soldiers were having fun with. I don’t know when we decided we needed to go, but with the silence of the dawn we left our little house carrying just a few clothes, some pictures, documents and a little food. Dad was carrying a long knife he was using to cut branches for the fire, he told us he had some money and that maybe we would be able to leave the town unnoticed. I was in shock, my whole life changed in mere hours. Inaya was supporting Nihal who was still silent, and was walking with difficulties. I remembered asking "‘Why?" My dad answered with his eyes fixed on the road: "They say that we, black people, should know our place, that we are filthy and not worthy to live in the same place as them, they also say that we are hiding rebels, and trying to overthrow the government" I thought for a second, "But we are all Sudanese, we live side by side with the Arabians, and some of us share the same faith, this makes no sense." "It does not" my dad said, "but the truth is the government is after our lands, that’s their justification for killing, robbing, raping, and doing all those horrible monstrosities, because of the land." I didn't say anything, just continued walking, trying to understand why soldiers would do such terrible things to their fellow citizens and all for a piece of land, dirty soil that is more often dry than covered with plants.
I don’t know if it was pure luck or our prayers were heard, but we managed to walk for a few days without seeing any soldiers. It was hard because we were avoiding the roads and when we needed to cross an area without places to hide dad insisted we wait til the night and then continue the journey. Our food and water supplies were very limited, and the grief of our mother’s death was crushing our souls. When we finally arrived in another city we were very tired. We found out that the attack against our town was not an isolated event, and the government had sent a lot of forces who needed to deal with the rebels and punish locals who were supposedly helping them. It was a hard blow because we understood there was no turning back if we wanted to stay alive. Dad managed to arrange for us to travel in a truck where we remained hidden between various boxes. The journey was very long and uncomfortable, but somehow we managed to reach the border. I saw that dad gave most of our money to the guards as a bribe, so they allowed us to pass. We were not safe yet, however. The situation in Libya was not much different than in Sudan. Once we reached Tripoli we found ourselves without home, without money, and without a plan for what to do next. We lived on the streets and spent the days trying to find jobs so we could buy food. Very often we went to sleep hungry.
One day dad told us he had found a smuggler who would have helped us reach Europe where we would have found better life and safety. But we didn't have the money to pay the guy. One night I woke up and saw dad was not with us. He returned in the morning looking quite shaken telling us he found the sum we needed. I didn't ask. I was avoiding asking questions anymore, being as silent as Nihal who was still not herself. It might have been selfish, I don’t know, but I was so distracted by my own suffering, I didn't have the strength to take another person’s, even my own dad’s.
They boarded us on an old fishing boat on which they had installed new engines. We were packed together under the deck. There were people on the deck too, but we were not allowed to go there because we were black. When a man started arguing he had paid them as much as they required the smugglers dragged him away, and threw him in the water. We are suffocating, and every now and then waves are threatening to drawn us. I cannot see my family, and I don’t know if they are still alive. I know a lot of people died during those three days were at sea. We didn't receive any food or water. I keep thinking about my mother laughing and saying I was her hope and light. I don’t feel like being much of those. The boat stops, probably the engines are broken. Then I see a person caring a flashlight. My eyes hurt from the light. We are taken out, and I see a bigger boat with people wearing uniforms. I am not sure if they are soldiers, and if they are going to hurt us. I feel someone holding my hand, and I see Inaya who can barely stand on her own. We are taken to the shore, my family close around me. A person who spoke our language told us we are sent to a reception center where they will check if we could be given a refugee status but it will probably take a long time since there are a lot of people who seek asylum. The reception center looks grim and unwelcoming. There are fences and walls all around it. Now that I know I will live there for quite a while, I can’t help but think if we had run from our country to end up as prisoners. I wonder if we are going to live a normal life again, have a house and dreams. I look at the woman who is about to question us and help us with the documents we need to fill in, she smiles at me. I find myself smiling back. My dad and sisters look so miserable, I hug them trying to bring them some comfort, at least we still have each other and we have our hope.
There are more than 50 million people worldwide who were forced to flee their homes due to war, natural disasters, or persecution due to race, religion, nationality, or political opinion, fleeing. This is the first time this large a number of people have been displaced since the Second World War. Half of the world's refugees are children, many travelling alone or with a group of other children looking for sanctuary. Most of them live in refugee camps with poor living conditions, lack of healthcare and proper education. Quite a few of them have lost hope for the future which results in increasing levels of crimes, child marriages, and early death. "There is no humanitarian solution … The solution is political and the solution is to solve the conflicts that generate these dramatic levels of displacement." These are words of António Guterres, head of the UN's refugee agency. Meanwhile millions of people suffer. I believe this is unacceptable, and that we have to try and help, raise awareness, or at least spend some time thinking about people like Amal whose story is based on real events.
If you wish to help there are various ways you can do so. You can set up a fundraising event to help refugees; write to your local government representatives to support the refugee cause; encourage local media to cover refugee issues and raise public awareness; invite refugees or those who help them to speak in schools, workplaces and clubs. Those require a lot of dedication so here are some easier ways: you can donate in support of field operations which provides necessary food, water, medical supplies, education, legal support, tents, and many other things the refugees need. You can also join digital dialogue via Twitter, Facebook, Causes, YouTube, MySpace, Flickr, and other platforms. If you prefer, you can donate to other organizations that are involved in helping refugees like the Cross or the Rescue Committee.
I realize this involves time and money but you need to know that you can help by just talking about those people: discuss their fates with your friends, raise awareness of their problems, or mention them in your prayers if you believe in prayers. We offer you an easy way to show your support by wearing this signature. I know we can make a difference. Hope always dies last.