‘Resettlement is like rebirth’

Many refugees who fled fighting in Libya to Tunisia’s Choucha refugee camp are awaiting resettlement. © www.marcsilver.net


Mawaheb Elnour was studying medicine when her family had to flee the conflict in Libya. This is her story of losing a home, finding a home, and everything that happened in between

I was living in Tripoli with my parents, two brothers and sister and had just finished my second year studying medicine when the conflict started in Libya.

Our neighbourhood was constantly under NATO air strikes. Fire was coming down on us every day from the sky. Everyone on the streets was carrying weapons and bullets were flying.

When you live like that, you try to act cool. But we were scared. My parents were terrified. Years ago they fled to Libya from Darfur – now they were in danger again.

One day, the air strikes were so intense that all the windows and doors at home were blown open.

We arrived to Choucha refugee camp in Tunisia in May 2011. On the first night, at the reception camp, I couldn’t stop crying. How did we end up losing everything? Homeless, living in a plastic tent, surrounded by strangers?

The next morning, I saw hundreds of white tents stretched across the desert sand. You see these places on television, and you never think that one day this could be you. Now, it was me. I wanted to run away.

I spent the first few nights in Choucha with another family because there weren’t enough blankets and mattresses in our tent. The family said I was crying and screaming in my sleep. I made them promise not to tell my parents.

Two months later, I first heard about resettlement. I was so happy that there was a way out! To be honest, I didn’t really care where we went. Anywhere with a real roof, a real bed and real bathroom was good enough. Anywhere I could feel safe. Because the one thing I remember most about Choucha is never feeling safe. You were always scared of something: scorpions, snakes, strangers.

We waited. The camp continued to grow. Every month they told us: “next month you go”.

Then, after seven months in Choucha, they told us: “tomorrow you are going to Ireland”. I couldn’t believe it. Everyone came to congratulate us. It was sad leaving all those people behind. Most of them are still stranded in Choucha. I’m in touch with them every day.

Dublin was cold and rainy. That was fine by me. It was so hot in Choucha all the time, I didn’t care if I didn’t ever see the sun again. Here was green, and beautiful and clean. The streets and buildings were amazing. And those big pigeons everywhere.

After two months at a reception hotel for asylum-seekers, we moved to a town 30km away from Dublin. We are happy. I want to go back to university and be a neurosurgeon. It’s what I’ve always wanted to do. In the meantime, I’m working on my English, I draw and I paint.

This journey from Libya to Choucha to Dublin made me realize that good things do happen. But you need to find the strength to cope and not lose hope in the meantime.

I am one of the lucky few. I know that there are so many who haven’t had the opportunity that I’ve had. We need to remember them. No one deserves to be forgotten in Choucha. Everyone needs this chance to start their life again. This is what I want to say to you: that resettlement is like a rebirth. It gives life to someone who has lost everything. No one should be left behind.

Resettlement is one of three durable solutions for refugees promoted by the UN and plays a key role in the international community’s response to the needs of refugees. It gives them immediate protection and a long-lasting solution. Amnesty international is campaigning for states to offer more resettlement places for stranded refugees.

Read more:

Rights of refugees and migrants
Resettlement campaign

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