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)