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Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (Refugee voices from exile) - A family destroyed

Refugees Magazine, 1 March 1997

An Algerian refugee says Malta is a country "with a big heart".

By an Algerian refugee in Malta

My wife was a dedicated nurse. She loved her profession. When we got married it was her wish to continue practicing. For my part I did not object. Running my shop with her working at the hospital, I used to tell myself that her happiness was my happiness.

One day my wife told me the wonderful news that she was pregnant. Algeria was in turmoil but in our joy we felt away from it all. Everything was going smoothly. Then, all of a sudden, everything collapsed.

At the hospital where my wife used to work, she was approached one day by two men she had never met before. They wanted her to go immediately with them to a secret place to treat wounded persons. My wife was confused. Frightened. Terrified. She pleaded with the men to understand. They insisted. However, seeing that she continued to resist the idea of going with them they left.

My wife told me about the incident over the phone. That evening my wife vanished as she was returning home. People later told me that she had been abducted.

Hours passed. Nothing happened. I prayed and prayed. For four terrible days I did not hear anything from my wife or anything about her. Then the police informed me that they had found my wife dead. Her throat had been slashed. A few days later I received a threatening note at my shop, instructing me to pay a large sum of money. My shop was then burned down. I realized that I was in danger too.

I love Algeria. I love my people. I had never thought of leaving my homeland. However, having lost my family and my property, I felt that it was time for me to at least save myself. I knew almost nothing about Malta. But being at risk, when people told me that it was possible for me to go to this island in the centre of the Mediterranean, I decided to try my luck.

Once in Malta I approached the Emigrants' Commission, a non- governmental organization which is also the representative of UNHCR in Malta. I applied for refugee status. My request was forwarded to UNHCR. Within a few days, it was clear to me that although small, Malta is a country with a big heart. The generous people at the Emigrants' Commission who are in charge of the organization's humanitarian section, gave me all the support and assistance I needed. They are always willing to listen and try to help asylum-seekers and refugees. I began to see light at the end of the tunnel.

When the news came that UNHCR accepted my application for refugee status, I was happy. UNHCR's protection, accompanied by some assistance, is priceless. It is a protection that put my mind at rest vis-à-vis my wish to be allowed to stay temporarily in Malta.

Having received UNHCR's answer, I tried to get in touch with my father (my mother died ten years ago) and my two brothers, to tell them about this. However, I was in for another shock. I couldn't trace my father and brothers. To date, I don't know what happened to them or where they may be. We lost contact.

Malta is not in a position to offer permanent resettlement to refugees. It is not difficult for refugees and asylum-seekers who reach Malta to understand this. The Maltese State grants refugees free medical care and free education for children. However, in Malta refugees cannot obtain a work permit, although many of them succeed in finding what Maltese people describe as "unofficial jobs."

Anyway, in Malta I found what I needed most in the most difficult time of my life: love, solidarity and support.

Source: Refugees Magazine Issue 107 (1997)




UNHCR country pages

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

The UN refugee agency's Nansen Awards Committee has named Dr. Katrine Camilleri, a 37-year-old lawyer with the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) in Malta, as the winner of the 2007 Nansen Refugee Award. The Committee was impressed by the political and civic courage she has shown in dealing with the refugee situation in Malta.

Dr. Camilleri first became aware of the plight of refugees as a 16-year-old girl when a priest visited her school to talk about his work. After graduating from the University of Malta in 1994, she began working in a small law firm where she came into contact with refugees. As Dr. Camilleri's interest grew in this humanitarian field, she started to work with the JRS office in Malta in 1997.

Over the last year, JRS and Dr. Camilleri have faced a series of attacks. Nine vehicles belonging to the Jesuits were burned in two separate attacks. And this April, arsonists set fire to both Dr. Camilleri's car and her front door, terrifying her family. The perpetrators were never caught but the attacks shocked Maltese society and drew condemnation from the Government of Malta. Dr. Camilleri continues to lead the JRS Malta legal team as Assistant Director.

2007 Nansen Refugee Award

Western Sahara Family Visits

Emotions are running high in the Sahara desert as families split for nearly three decades by conflict over sovereignty of the Western Sahara Territory are being briefly reunited by a UNHCR family visit scheme.

Living in five windswept and isolated camps around Tindouf in south-western Algeria for the last 28 years, the refugees have been almost totally cut off from their relatives in the Territory. So when the UN refugee agency launched its five-day family visit scheme in March this year, there were tears of joy as well as apprehension at the prospect of reunion.

The visit scheme is proving extremely popular, with more than 800 people already having visited their relatives and another 18,000 signed up to go. In addition to the family visit scheme, the UN refugee agency has opened telephone centres in some of the camps, creating another channel through which long-lost family members can make contact.

Photos taken in June 2004.

Western Sahara Family Visits

Portugal: Sahrawi Cultural GatheringPlay video

Portugal: Sahrawi Cultural Gathering

People from Sahrawi refugee camps in Algeria and from Western Sahara Territory meet for a cultural seminar in the Azores Islands as part of a confidence building measures programme.