Escaping Misery From Darfur to Lebanon

The disappearance of the protestors came after the UNHCR asked the Ramlet al-Bayda police station to arrest the refugees and to move them away from the building’s main entrance. (Photo: Marwan Bu Haidar)

The UNHCR moved against the Sudanese refugees that have been on hunger strike in front of the UN agency building in Beirut for two months now. The fate of the 13 arrested by Lebanese police remains uncertain.

On Saturday morning, the Sudanese refugees were no longer to be found in front of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) building in Beirut, where they had been camped out and on a hunger strike since the beginning of June.

Their disappearance came after the UNHCR asked the Ramlet al-Bayda police station to arrest the refugees and to move them away from the building’s main entrance.

To increase the pressure on the UN agency, the refugees had shut down the entrance last week. Consequently, the police took 13 refugees to the station, then handed them over to General Security.

The refugees do not believe the UNHCR when it says that it does not have a solution, and that the real problem is with the embassies of the countries where resettlement is possible. “If the UNHCR cannot find a solution,” some of them say, “then they should close down.”

Others insist that when the UNHCR puts pressure on the embassies, they get what they want. The proof, they say, is that three of the protesters were given dates to travel 55 days after they began their protests. Two will travel on August 8, and a third on August 16.

However, the other thirteen, who are now under arrest, are still staring into the unknown, a journey they began when they left Sudan.

Just before their arrest, the protesters sat on a few pieces of cardboard and some small cushions and told their life stories – the lives they lived in their own country, the lives they are terrified of being sent back to now.

No matter how bad their conditions are at the moment in Lebanon or any other place, they do not want to go back to Darfur. Most of them are from the war-torn region of Darfur, and all are from non-Arab African tribes.

According to them, to be a “non-Arab” in Sudan means one simply does not exist. Haroun says that Darfur got its name because it has “so many al-Fur people.” He and Ali belong to the African al-Fur tribe, which forms the majority of the province.

Over there – at least among their tribe – the term “Negro” is not considered an insult. They say clearly that they belong to the Negro tribes, which are different from the Arab tribes. Their blackness, they say, has brought them racial discrimination in a country where the darkness of your skin is not supposed make any difference.

The people in Darfur relied mainly on agriculture. In his area, people waited every week for the Monday Fono market, where farmers displayed their produce and people bought their weekly supplies. The small farmer would only sell his products on market day in his own area. Those more prosperous would travel on their animals between markets, which are set up in a different area of the province every day.

Haroun was not a farmer – he studied accounting at Khartoum University. When he finished, he returned to his village in Darfur at the behest of charities which had been set up to encourage educated Darfuri young men to go back to region to help in its development. Haroun went back to teach in his village’s elementary school, because there was no secondary or higher education available there.

Haroun the school teacher did his job without being paid, because the charities called for voluntary work for the good of the area. However, his pupils’ parents insisted on rewarding him, so they farmed a piece of land for him and brought him the produce from it.

Here, the story ends. The war, which intensified in 2002, brought their lives to a halt. Haroun tells the story of how government-backed Janjaweed militias invaded the province and carried out a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Ikhlas has a similar story. She comes from the Nubian mountains. All that she can recall from the war is the disemboweled bodies, strewn across the roads. Some members of her family were among the dead. Her father, however, escaped when the security forces threatened to kill him because he voted against the government.

Ikhlas’s husband came to Lebanon as a refugee in 1996. They sent her to him as a bride in 2003, when she was still 15 years old. With her husband and children, she lived through the July War in Lebanon. She did not think of leaving like others of different nationalities, because what she witnessed during the July War was more merciful, as she says, than what is happening in her part of the world.

All that Ikhlas wants today is for her children to be educated, so that they do not have to suffer like she did. But she worries that the Caritas schools which they attend are not officially recognized.

“Jumbo” also remembers his village in Darfur. His eyes well up when he thinks about the Janjaweed killing his parents. He had reached Lebanon by the time he received the news.

Jumbo does not want to go back to his home. He wants to bring up his children far away from both Darfur and Lebanon, in a country that respects their humanity and color.

He arrived in Lebanon in 2001, but he was only given documents recognizing him as a refugee a few months ago, he says. So how long will he have to wait to be resettled?

By: Zeinab Merhi

Published Monday, August 6, 2012

From Al Ahbar English Newspaper

For more information on this issue, check-out these articles from AlJazeera and Mashalla News.

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