“We need to urgently get resettled to another country, in order to live in safety and be treated with dignity“: Refugee family of 5 flee war-torn home, only to suffer more hardships

A story narrated by Mrs Jameela, a refugee from Sudan, guest-edited by Jusra Nur Arroum.

MEDENINE, Tunisia

Almost two-thirds of the estimated 75,000 migrants living in Tunisia are from sub-Saharan African countries. Many forced migrants either entered Tunisia illegally over the Libyan or Algerian border or became irregular migrants after their official residence permits expired. The causes of flight and the realities of migration experiences are often complex stories. We shed light on one of these stories.

Mrs Jameela and her family, her husband (40) and her three children, escaped Darfur in 2003 after militia destroyed their village in a war of genocide against their tribe, the Zaghawa. 

“We have lived in Libya for six years since 2013 after we left our home in Sudan. We sought asylum and protection for refugees. We were survivors of war and persecution. But there was no solution in sight from the UNHCR. In April 2019 clashes in Libya and random attacks started occurring. For more than two months there was no protection or safe place in Tripoli. We started to experience sporadic attacks. We could not find respite.”

Mrs Jameela and her husband then decided to cross the borders from Libya to Tunisia by foot, seeking safety. It was a long and arduous journey, especially for Mrs. Jameela, who was 6 months pregnant at the time. They entered Tunisia by smugglers.

“When we entered Tunisia, we were taken to a shelter held by the Tunisian Red Crescent. The shelter was overcrowded with migrants. We were treated like criminals or slaves. Life in the shelters was hard. Many migrants and most of us were sick and unwell. We then registered for asylum seekers in the UNHCR Tunisia office, but we were told that all our six-year records from Libya had been lost. They lost all our documents of asylum-seeking which we experienced in Libya for more than 6 years. This made our situation more difficult. There are no rights here!”

For three months during their difficult stay, Mrs Jameela gave birth to her son. Finally with the help of UNHCR & Partners they were provided with a flat in the city of Medenine.

“They gave us a flat but it was unfurnished, unserviced. It was an empty apartment. I stared for hours at an empty wall, waiting patiently to get called for a Refugee interview. They called us after 7 months of waiting for an interview and we were finally recognised as refugees.”

Even though Mrs. Jameela’s family have finally been recognised as Refugees they still struggle with health care, school for the children, racism and integrating into the Tunisian culture. Many women experience discrimination, in particular migrants. Due to COVID-19, the treatment toward migrants has worsened. Many struggle financially as there are no jobs.

“Life is not easier for us. My husband has no job. My children have no toys. We don’t have enough money for food. It is complicated to find a job. I have a university degree in Agriculture and my husband one in Education, Physics and Mathematics, yet we have no job, not enough money to buy toys for our children, not even enough for basic essentials like food. There are not even any rights for refugee children. All we want is to be treated fairly. We need to urgently get resettled to another country, in order to live in safety and be treated with dignity.”