Walked Two Thousand Kilometers

Refugees are today´s number one topic. People´s opinion on the issue is divided: some feel compassion, others fear; some of them have open hearts, others let theirs be filled with hate. To answer the question why is not easy, and it becomes even more complicated when one starts to talk to the refugees themselves… Welcome to the Evacuation Transit Centre in Humenné.

Hani laid out colors and paper out in the yard and took a brush in her hand. In a moment she had a couple of pictures around her. We were especially impressed by the one showing a bird´s head growing from a heart. “This is how we, Somalians, picture love,” Hani explains. It seems the image has more than one meaning; the bird has always been a symbol of freedom.

Hani is fifteen. She moved to Humenné two days ago, together with her parents, four siblings and a grandmother. She has never seen Somalia. She was born at a refugee camp in Eritrea, where her parents sought refuge, running away from war. She spent all her previous life in the Umkulu tent camp, where thousands of Somalians keep arriving due to fighting taking place in their country for more than twenty years.

Together with Hani´s family, another family from the Eritrea camp has arrived in Humenné too – a husband with his wife and five children. The youngest child, the mother holds close to her chest, is still a little baby.

“I was the one to meet them at the airport in Košice,” says ETP´s Interpreter, Faisal Jeilani Mohamed. He comes from Somalia too; he grew up in the capital of Mogadishu. He knows what it is like to live a life of a refugee; he has been experiencing it for years.

“One day I came back from school and we all had to run because a military bombardment had just begun. It was in 1991. My entire family fled to a safe country,” Faisal started revealing his story.

He wanted to become a doctor and help people since he was a child. It was before he even started going to school that he had to cope with the terrible grief upon the loss of his beloved uncle. “Our family couldn´t get a doctor for him,” his mother explained. At that point Faisal realized that he wanted to become a doctor. His father was an educated man, who liked his son´s determination, so he led Faisal towards realizing his dream. Unfortunately, due to war universities all over the country were closed, and it was very difficult to obtain a medical degree in Somalia. Yet Faisal found a way. He left for Ukraine to study at Bukovinian State University, where he managed to fulfill his dream to become a doctor. The Ukrainian authorities would send university graduates back to their home country immediately, but Faisal knew he could not and did not want to return to Somalia. He realized his life would be at danger because the local regime did not trust the people who had lived in another country; they were suspicious that their mentality had transformed and might be transferred to others too. There was nothing left for him to do but get away from Ukraine illegally. He crossed the green borderline to get to the Slovak territory, where his protection was extended for one year.

“I needed to find work in order to be able to send money to my family,” Faisal explains. Before he was able to access his medical diploma and have it verified, he performed manual labor in Bratislava, after which he managed to find an anesthesiologist job at a hospital in Nové Zámky. However, it was not a permanent position and he had to leave after a year. He tried to find another job but did not succeed. Luck returned to him when he became an Interpreter of ETP Slovakia at the Evacuation Transit Centre in Humenné.

“My job in Humenné is meaningful and I am glad I have made good friends here,” Faisal says.

He is currently preparing for attestation; and therefore, he also works as a Doctor. He regularly sends half of his income to his family, who moved to another country out of safety concerns.

“I would like to acquire medical experience and find a job wherever there is a lack of doctors. I don´t care about earning a lot of money in America or Germany. Money is not my first concern. My place is where doctors are missing and needed,” Faisal reveals his plans.

“I am happy when I see other people happy – happiness is when I can make others happy,” Faisal confesses.

“I would like to stay in Slovakia until I attain the attestation and enough experience,” Faisal wishes.

Sometimes he faces a problem that seems unsolvable for him, as a refugee… He does not know why, but he avoids walking alone in the dark.

When new Somalians arrive in Humenné, he feels strong compassion. He knows they are running away from the bombardment and persecution.

“Until they reach safety, most of the refugees have to walk nearly two thousand kilometers. Many times, these are women holding children in their hands, elderly people and entire families. One cannot prepare food provisions for such a long journey… The country people in Africa never let refugees go hungry and thirsty, but still the months of wandering are exhausting,” Faisal explains.

Of course, it is not only Faisal who takes care of the refugees in Humenné. The ETP team consists of twenty-six employees – social workers, educators, nurses, psychologists, interpreters, a physician and a pediatrician. After a couple of days of adjustment to the environment, education and free-time activities start. The refugees study English, acquire knowledge of the western culture and their future homeland, and they attend various courses. Available for them are also a PC room, a gym, a playroom with a lot of toys for children, and a big yard with a sandpit and climbers. Of course, meals and medical care from the day they arrive are a must. After quarantine the refugees are able to leave the premises of the Centre; they can go out to the town on their own or take trips to visit Slovakia´s favorite sights and attend cultural events in groups.

The Evacuation Transit Centre has the capacity of 150 people. It is operated by the Migration Office of the Ministry of Interior of Slovakia. ETP Slovakia has run the Centre since 2009 in cooperation with the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the Migration Office.

The refugees usually spend six months in Humenné, in justifiable cases even longer.

All the adults want to work in their future homeland. The fifteen-year-old Hani already has a plan: she wants to become an Interpreter. The place where she lived so far could not reveal the full range of professions one could choose from to realize their potential…