From Syria to Colombia, the UN’s Refugee Agency has collected stories from around the world that show what it is like to flee conflict and persecution. Over 45 million people have been forced to leave their homes. Below are just five stories which reflect some of the reasons why.
For World Refugee Day on June 20, read more stories from refugees.
Ghazal arrived in Egypt from Damascus by plane in 2012 with her two sons. She says: “We went through a great deal of pain, displacement, and shelling back in Syria; my house was bombed, my husband was arrested, my children suffered mental anguish.”
Ghazal remembers that during the flight to Egypt, she was crying the whole time, while her son was holding her tight. What really hurt Ghazal the most was leaving Syria, her homeland and her family who she has not seen since she had to flee. She was displaced several times, always fearing for her life and her children. “I left without saying goodbye… I was coming to Egypt without knowing anyone, without a plan, to the unknown.”
Leaving Syria was a difficult decision, but necessary “at any cost.” Watch her tell her story here.
When fighting broke out in Malakal, South Sudan, I was working as an HIV counsellor for a Japanese NGO. All the international staff fled South Sudan, and the local staff were told to seek protection. With my family, I moved to a police station and stayed there for one week. The situation seemed to be calming down, but then the city was recaptured by rebel forces and the fighting was so intense that we had to move to the town of Nassir. If I’d been alone, it would have been easier. But I was with my pregnant wife and my six children.
We walked for 20 days, getting food from some people who offered us shelter. Sometimes, we had to sell some of our clothes to get money or food; it was very difficult. When we reached Nassir, my wife was in no condition to proceed. She was about to deliver. We were assisted by a MSF hospital in Nassir, where my youngest child was born. His name is Gatlat Hoth Yual.
South Sudan is now at war, and I came to Ethiopia with my family for safety. In my country, there is no food and no school for my children. I am preoccupied about their future. Here, we may receive education and health services for them. If the situation gets better again in South Sudan, they will have a better future, without war.
Assafa is six years old. Her father died four years ago, and she is in a refugee camp with her mother, her older sister and younger brother. They left their village in the Gossi region of northern Mali as soon as the conflict started in early 2012, and walked three days before reaching safety in Burkina Faso.
“A Tuareg settlement close to our home was attacked by the Army, and we were afraid that the conflict would soon reach our village, so we left,” explains Assafa’s mother, Aichatou. “Dozens of people were killed during the attack, only a few survived.” The family paid a driver 400,000 CFA ($800) to take them over the border. They sold some of their goats to be able to raise that huge amount of money.
Assafa was relocated with her family and all the refugees of Damba camp to another nearby camp, in Mentao. She continues to go to school. “I want to become a teacher,” she says. “And I want to go back to my home in Mali.”
Kelly was 13 years old when her mother suddenly told her they had to leave their home. As fighting between various armed groups spilled into their village, they moved to Buenaventura in Colombia. “I didn’t really understand why we had to leave – we always had to be careful where we lived. I was a bit confused and I was sad but after some time I came to realize we were safer in Buenaventura and that I could be happy again – other people were losing family members in the fighting but we were all safe.”
But life in Buenaventura was not always easy or safe. When Kelly met her husband, they knew that the only way forward, the only way to find a better future, was to move on again; this time they chose greater Bogota.
“It has been difficult but everywhere can be difficult and my husband has found good regular work in construction here. We have to take the opportunities that come our way and we do not dwell on the past.”
Kelly’s ultimate aim is to go back to university and study to become a doctor to help children who might be unwell or at risk.
“For my children, I want them to be educated and to have a better future than my husband or me. I want them to have things that I never had. We will work hard to give them the best start we can.”
In 2008, my family and I ran away from my country because of religious issues. From there, l started the kind of life that I have right now. I would like to ask this question to everyone: who would want to live in a country where there is no freedom of politics, religion or speech, and which discriminates against its minority ethnic groups because of their race or origins? Therefore, we came to Malaysia for our safety and refuge. Through the help of UNHCR, we got refugee status and resettled in the United States of America in 2010.
I am now working in a clinic as outreach coordinator for a group of Burmese people in Indianapolis. I’m also serving the Lord at the International Life Ministry. God blessed us with three kids and they learn fast and I am so happy to see them adopting the education that is given here in the States. I am really amazed to live in this kind of fine apartment, using electricity for 24-hours, driving a nice car on a very smooth road, good communications, meeting with different, colourful people and becoming friends with them, enjoying all kinds of good food and good health.
I hope to reunite with my sister and her family soon. As of now, I just have hope for my kids. I hope one day they will become educated people and help Burma to develop in all areas. Especially, for my Chin people who live in Chin state. I hope for my people to be free.
Author: Leigh Foster is Chief of Events, Campaigns and Goodwill Ambassadors, Division of External Relations, at the UN High Commissioner for refugees.
All images courtesy of UNHCR. Main image: Afghan children internally displaced by war stand outside their snow-covered tents in Kabul February 5, 2012. REUTERS/Mohammad Ismail