With Melissa Fleming

Magic and Beauty

by Bruno Geddo | Interviewed by Melissa Fleming

At Salamiya IDP camp near Mosul, Iraq, Bruno Geddo consoles a boy who was harassed by his peers due to a disability. The photo was taken in July 2018, just days after the city’s liberation. ©Courtesy of Bruno Geddo

7 JUNE 2019

Bruno Geddo

Magic and Beauty

7 JUNE 2019

Bruno Geddo

Magic and Beauty

Even in the middle of a war zone, Bruno Geddo manages to light up the room, make people smile, maybe even laugh. He is somebody who really deeply appreciates different cultures in the world and sees beauty in the ugliest of times. He is unstoppable.

“When I was in the Central African Republic, I started to love the deep forest and marvel every day at the beauty of the sunrise and the sunset and the storm and the fog. When I was in Mauritania, I loved to go out into the Sahara desert, it was the same thing – wonderful. Yemen, I call it my beloved fairy-tale country. It is a fairy tale.”

He may sound like he’s just been on a long and magical holiday, but Bruno has been helping the victims of conflict in the world’s most dangerous places with UNHCR, for 30 years now. His most recent posting was to Iraq, from where he spoke about the impact of the violent battle with the Islamic State.

+ Full Transcript

Bruno Geddo edited transcript

Melissa Fleming (MF): Even in the middle of a war zone, Bruno manages to light up the room, make people smile, maybe even laugh. He is somebody who really deeply appreciates different cultures in the world and sees beauty in the ugliest of times. He is unstoppable.

My name is Melissa Fleming and I am the spokesperson for UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. This is Awake at Night. In this episode, we meet Bruno Geddo, someone who is a true force of nature.

Bruno Geddo (BG): When I was in the Central African Republic, I started to love the deep forest and marvel every day at the beauty of the sunrise and the sunset and the storm and the fog. When I was in Mauritania, I loved to go out into the Sahara desert, it was the same thing – wonderful. Yemen, I call it my beloved fairy-tale country. It is a fairy tale.

He may sound like he’s just been on a long and magical holiday, but Bruno has been helping the victims of conflict in the world’s most dangerous places with UNHCR, for 30 years now. His most recent posting was to Iraq, from where he spoke about the impact of the violent battle with Islamic State.

BG: “The size and speed of the outflow of civilians from Falluja has been overwhelming. 60,000 people in three days. We are now playing catch up, trying to make sure that everybody who has come out exhausted, traumatized and in need of emergency assistance will have a tent to sleep under and core relief items to use to support life.”

MF: Bruno, thank you so much for coming into the studio for taking part in this podcast. Tell me, just reflecting back, and kind of the first thing that comes to your mind: What is it that keeps you most awake at night – that you just can’t get out of your head?

BG: Well, it has been in phases. During the Mosul preparation for this massive urban evacuation campaign, you know, what definitely kept me awake at night was the anxiety, in a way. Are we going to be able to deliver, in such a massive disaster, which we had the chance to be able to anticipate, and prepare for? But it also means that, you know, it is coming, and therefore your level of stress is much higher.

MF: So this was when Mosul, Iraq was liberated from ISIS.

BG: Exactly, exactly.

MF: There was no way to get in and see what the situation was before. You only heard rumours or reports of what was going on. You had to prepare to go in and help the people who’d been trapped.

BG: Exactly. And this was, you know, basically since I joined Iraq in 2015 until the end of the military campaign, which lasted nine months. It finished in August 2017. I must admit, in Iraq we are having a problem, because experts argue that the entire Iraqi population is probably the most traumatized in the world, because they have been living in a state of off-war on-war, you know, for the last 40 years, since the late ’70s in fact. There is a level of need, which goes well beyond our standard ability to deliver psychosocial counselling. So as a protection agency, we have been facing this dilemma: How far can we go to make a meaningful contribution, beyond the individual compassion that you feel and you show and you share when you meet these persons? How far can we go? And the answer was, we just don’t have that level of expertise. I remember, I went twice to meet ISIS “cubs”, the young boys brainwashed by ISIS in the juvenile, try to get close and to understand, but this is a human being to a human being. So, we’d rather focus as our master, in terms of protection intervention on documentation. Why? Because by issuing documents, up to one third of documents might have been lost, confiscated, destroyed, shredded during the war. You enable the people to retrieve a kind of sense of belonging, of citizenship, you enable them to cross check-points without the fear of being arrested. It will help at least the people to feel safer from the legal point of view, which is quite important in a place as volatile as Iraq and then they would take it from there and build upon it.

MF: It seems that, even in the middle of the night, you’re awake thinking about the people, and getting to the people, and serving the people, and it’s all work-related. Is it sometimes all-consuming the work you do?

BG: I am afraid yes. Since I joined the Iraq operation three years ago, I don’t know if “consumed” is the right word, but let me say that I have had no life of my own outside work. It has been 24/7, 365 days a year. It’s impossible, it’s relentless and it’s impossible to switch off. We know that, everything starts and ends in our brain. So after, of course, agonizing about the situation, I turned it around, and I said “okay, I will be grateful if one day or one weekend something does not happen, and I have half an hour or one hour for myself”. The only thing I managed to keep – but again rarely, because I don’t really spend many weekends in Baghdad – was two hours to swim on a Friday and Saturday, when I was in Baghdad, so very little. This has turned my life upside down. Until, that is, something bigger happened. A tragedy struck my family in December last year. And, at that point, on top of that work-related stress, I add tremendous stress of my own. And you know, you always learn something. What I learnt, is that there is something which is more important than Iraq in my life and that is my mother. And so, although the level of stress doubled up literally, still, it helped me to put things into context.

MF: What happened to your mother?

BG: I am trying to see something positive out of it. She suffered a major stroke, where 95 percent of people would die, but because she’s a born fighter and a born leader, she didn’t die. Of course, we spoke all the time, when she was in the state of mini-coma, I was holding her hand constantly. She was in emergency care for a full month and she would be able to nod, to signal that she would understand. And I was telling her: “Please fight”, you know, “because we cannot just do without you”. And she made, I think, that conscious decision, which was a big gift of hers. Because if she had gone suddenly, first my father would be gone within two weeks, because they’ve been married for 62 years in the happiest of marriages and secondly the shock to her three children, would have been possibly unsurmountable. Such a leader in the house, independent, dignified, wide-ranging intellect. She would write poems for me, when I left 30 years ago, for months on, and letters constantly. We have boxes and boxes of letters. So, that gift that my mother gave us, in an extreme situation, of staying with us – now she is diminished, but she is still there. And she’s kind of little by little starting to walk, even if the right hand is paralyzed, and to be fairly lucid and you know, and constantly trying out herself to continue to give – this has been a tremendous gift. And, in a tragedy, it still enabled me to move on, and it’s enabled me to see that there are things in life – sometimes, which is a good thing – that are more than your own job, you know, to keep things in perspective! Yeah.

MF: Was it your mother who got you to, who prompted you to join UNHCR to become a humanitarian?

BG: No, not at all. My mother has always been by my side, whatever my choices. And that is the strength I have, as a cosmopolitan citizen. My roots are the strongest in my family, and my Italian nest – not politically, purely culturally. What happened is that I grew up in a very liberal and outward – liberal in the European sense, not in the American sense – an outward-looking family. And because I wasn’t sure what I would do, I chose to do something, which I knew, by instinct would open every door: Law. So I just graduated in law. But I never intended to become a lawyer, a barrister, or solicitor – you don’t have those categories in Italy, but to go to court… No. I always had, from a very young age, from the age of six – no nine, in primary school – starting to learn the names of the capital cities of all the countries in the world, and now I don’t remember them. But at the time, I would remember all of them.

So this interest for geography, for history, for space and time, travelling, turned me into a very restless adolescent and then a very restless law student. And the only thing I knew was that I wanted to do something, to become a citizen of the world, whatever that meant. So, I attempted of course a diplomatic career, I failed because that exam is very tough. I failed it, but it was a blessing in disguise, because as a diplomat my life would have been so much more constrained. And then, one day, I learnt that the Italian government was having this extremely interesting program, called Junior Professional Officers. I applied and I got selected! And by irony, I didn’t know at that time what UNHCR was! I got selected and I said: “What is this? The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. Why was I selected?” Because I had a degree in law. Because UNHCR needed lawyers to do the reading and the application of the international refugee law.

So, my interest had always been much broadly in geopolitics. I had not focused so much on human rights. I always had that outward looking to the world, but more in terms of geopolitics. So I took it, as the opportunity, the chance of my life, but I do remember, I reflected for a very long time. That’s why I left in November of 1988, but the interview must have been in April or May. I really explored inside myself and in the end I took the jump. I never looked back. If I had remained in my country, I would have been a misfit. I found myself by being able to leave – but at the same time, keeping the strongest of relations with my roots, with my family: my mother, my siblings and my father. So that balance is what allowed me to become a fully-fledged cosmopolitan international citizen.

One other thing, for which I have to be forever grateful, that happened to me is Sudan. Sudan was selected as my first duty station: a small city on the Ethiopian border called Gadarif. It was backwater to the ordinary people, but to me, it was what revealed my humanitarian instincts to myself, because I didn’t know I had them. So there are things, there are vocations, there are potentials in your soul, in your art, in your brain, that you are not aware of, until something triggers them. The kindness, the openness, the genuineness of the Sudanese people, were so wonderful that, they had this incredible effect on me. They pulled out of me a vocation I didn’t know I had. And I will be forever grateful – not to the government, of course, of Sudan – but to the people of Sudan. And the government, in a way, it was tough. So, I also learned my ropes there. But the people of Sudan: I will never forget them.

MF: What can you remember?

BG: I had friendships, which lasted for many, many years.

MF: Could you describe the duty station? You said that it was backwater. Can you describe what it looks like there and the population you were dealing with, who was it that gave you this feeling?

BG: The population. They were Ethiopians fleeing from the dictatorship and Eritreans fighting for independence. So as a young Professional Officer and, of course, keeping in mind there was a duty for neutrality and impartiality, I imbued their passion, I imbued their passion, and I felt very strongly, you know, for them. And I remember, when I finally the dictatorship fell in May 1991, we were exhilarated. You know, everybody was going around the streets, in Gadarif, with these branches of a neem tree, a wonderful tree, which grows in the African desert. It is one of my favourite trees, together with the mango tree, you know. You know, to feast, to celebrate, it’s like Palm Sunday you know, in the West, with these branches of neem tree to celebrate the fall of the dictatorship. So, the intensity of their passion, rubbed off on the Protection Officer who was trying to do something, to help them while they were in Sudan. And then, of course, my Sudanese neighbours. It was a very gradual coming together, knowing each other, but something that motivated me tremendously, because of course, I went through a cultural shock for the first six months in Sudan… I went through cultural shock, it’s normal.

I still remember one particularly wrenching experience, I was standing, because of the heat, I was just wearing trousers, but I was bare chested, you know, on this small gate to my home. And then they came and they told me, “You cannot stand like this, in the street”. I said, “Why not?” He [my neighbour] said, “No, this is not acceptable” and he became quite upset, you know. So in the end, I turned around, locked the door and went inside my garden. I think that it was a pivotal moment for me, where I managed to digest the environment where I was, the need to respect the local customs there. And again, I never had a moment like that again. One moment was enough. We became friendly, and I think it was coming from both sides: my neighbours were pushier than me to get closer to me, so we started to invite each other for tea, in the afternoons. And of course, in Sudan, because of the heat, you are laying, you don’t have really sofas you have beds, with a mattress, set outside of the tukul, of the hut, because people live in that – one for the kitchen, one for the mafrash, where they receive guests, and one for the bedrooms, or many, if there are more. So we got used to this habit of laying on the mattresses and sipping tea in the late afternoon. I have these wonderful memories of muezzin calling for prayers, in the dust and the heat of the late afternoon, around 6:00, as the sun was setting. And again will always be with me, sipping tea, with my friends from the neighbourhood, just from the other side of the street.

MF: Bruno, you’re probably one of the most positive colleagues I know, even though you’re living in some of the most difficult places, where there are things that are happening to human beings that are just atrocities, appalling. How do you stay so positive?

BG: I must say, in Iraq, it has not been easy. Because of the unspeakable atrocities perpetrated by ISIS, I would read them every day, in the media monitoring. That is something that I had never experienced before. I could not accept this. And you know, I was constantly upset, and just traumatized by reading the types of things that they were doing, to punish people and to intimidate other people. And of course I would not mention any of this, because it’s too gruesome, and cruel and unsettling. But overall, I don’t think I am a hero. You know, it comes very naturally to me. You know, when I was in the Central African Republic, I started to love the deep forest – the second largest Earth basin of green, after the Amazonia, is the Congo Basin – so I was seeing the fisherman doing things that they had done for millennia, along the Congo River, watching them from my window and marvelling every day of the beauty of the sunrise and the sunset and the storm, and the fog, and these men always doing things that had been done the same way, with the boats and the nets, for centuries.

When I was in Mauritania, of course, I would love to go out in the Sahara desert. It’s the same thing. Wonderful, seeing how the Moors have a very personal relationship with the sand. They would cover themselves with this beautiful jellabiya and then just lay there, with their head on the sand. And in Sudan, it was all about relationships, as I said. Yemen was the art, the architecture, and the Yemenis are the most gentle and the most unfairly punished people I think I can think of. Yemen, I call it my beloved fairy-tale country. It is a fairy-tale country. It is like going back one millennium in the same marketplace with these tremendously beautiful, elaborate architecture of the buildings. So I found magic and beauty, and I think the notion of beauty – which is not an aesthetic beauty, like some intellectuals would define it – to me, beauty is really the physical beauty. The beauty of a person. The beauty of a natural setting and the beauty of a city. This constantly inspired me. So, if I have to translate it into two words, I will say my inner engine or my inner motor is two things: the compassion, the empathy for the underdogs, constantly throughout my life, and the intellectual interest for something new and beautiful. And that’s why I went through all of these places. In each of them there is tremendous beauty, and, of course, I think that, if I have to put one on top, it is Yemen. The beauty of Yemen, this fairy-tale place, is beyond description. Absolutely.

MF: It must be extremely painful for you, looking at what’s happening to Yemen.

BG: It is very painful, very painful.

MF: And how do you reconcile that pain?

BG: You know, I think I should try to go. After 30 years of picking up the pieces, I would like to do something, to help crack the root causes of the problem. That is the only thought I have, when I see this crisis, which is so unfair to the people, to the ones on the receiving end. There is nothing as mild and gentle as the Yemenis. I remember, in Jeddah, I was going around, visiting this beautiful old city, full of Yemeni illegal migrants. I became friends with one of them. He invited me for fruit juices. He insisted to pay the fruit juice for me! Such wonderful, natural friendships. So I feel horrible for them, but I realize how difficult the political and geopolitical context is. My first reaction would be maybe to start trying to help with my little “whatever I can do” to crack the root causes of the problem which are always political.

MF: From the humanitarian to peacemaker?

BG: Exactly! I think, eventually, that will be my wish, because you cannot be seeing people treated in that way, it’s just not acceptable. It is against my inner moral compass to see things like this.

MF: You have a passion for looking at beauty. You’ve just described that to us, but you also collect beauty, art.

BG: Yeah.

MF: Describe what your collection looks like.

BG: It is something maybe because of my Italian background. I don’t know. You remember the “mecenate”? The “mecenate” is an Italian tradition, where you have patrons of the arts who encourage artists. So when I was in Bangui, in Central Africa, I unwittingly became a patron of artists in three locations: Brazzaville, Bangui and Kinshasa. Because another reflection, which comes natural to you, when you live in such wracked places, is “how come places wracked by war and poverty can produce such beautiful art?” Here I am talking basically of paintings, composite materials and crafts from artists. Over time – I was there for three years – I collected, I think, 120 pieces. There is the subject of the old crafts – the statues, the carvings – that is something from the African past. But to deal with the artist, to encourage the artist, to buy… I never put any frame… I keep it as it is, sometimes in fact, the frame is very slanted. I keep it as it is. Oil on canvas, on all sorts of styles, abstract or landscape. It was tremendous. So I became, through my passion for collecting art, a patron of the artists. I remember this particular young artist, Ganzo fils, because he had a father, but the father died young. He offered to do a portrait of me, that I’d never… only my sister had done a couple of them. He did a portrait of me and he put refugees all around, in his abstract style, looking at me as if I was sending positive energy to them. From this one artist, 22 or 23 years old, I think I have two art pieces. And I never get tired of watching them. Now they are in storage unfortunately! In Nairobi. Even through art, you may end up encouraging people, which is beautiful, on top of enjoying the beauty itself.

MF: So you’ve always had this really strong motivation to help the underdog. Where does that come from?

BG: Honestly, I don’t know. I’ve always been like this from a very young age. I can confirm, I cannot stand arrogant people for example. So this is one of my biggest weaknesses. Paradoxically, I have to say it flat, there are tremendously aggressive and arrogant people in the humanitarian world. And I always naturally sympathize for the underdog, for the weakest party. I don’t know where it comes from. Honestly, I don’t know. Maybe because of my upbringing. Maybe because I got a very strong sense of justice, instilled in me. Maybe because of the injustices I witness, but that will always be with me. If there is an arrogant powerful person and a weak person, I instinctively go for the weaker. It is, in a way, also the road not taken. I always take the toughest one, never the easier one.

MF: You’ve been in Iraq, during some of the most troubled times, in recent years… violent times. And you were also dealing with the victims of Islamic State, when, for example, Mosul was liberated. What did you see and what did you hear, when people started to be evacuated and you were able to help them?

BG: I did have some shocking experiences. And again, because I had matured, I kept quiet. I still remember one day, in a camp for displaced Muslawis east of Mosul. I engaged in a conversation and these men, middle-aged men, started to say: “You know, we were just fine in this, until the bombs started falling. And there was no issue”. And I said: “But what about the blood? And the killings every day? You know, in the streets, and the people hanging from the lamp posts?” “Oh, the bombs that dropped from the sky, they killed many more”. So I realized that, in that narrative, you cannot win. And I didn’t even try to fight. I said, these are sympathizers, I’ll leave them alone. I felt a deep anger inside me, but I did not argue.

Another terrible revealing moment came when I met the wives of ISIS fighters, foreign wives, widows now. We had been in our reception centre, in the south of Mosul, for three weeks before they were put in a detention facility elsewhere. This was something that I probably should not raise, such was… the emotional toll on me. I was sitting with two extended families, all women and children. Through and through, it was always making up excuses: “Women in Islam cannot think for themselves. They don’t know what they are doing, they don’t know where we are taken. They are not told what the plan is for them. We are ignorant. We didn’t know anything of what happened to us. We had been taken to Turkey, then to Syria and then, we didn’t even know we had been taken here. We just wanted to live under the caliphate. And then the bombs started falling.” Did you see something?” “No, no, no I didn’t see anything”. So that level of brainwashing was shocking, to me. No sense of remorse. No sense of compassion. No regret. And remember, there was a morality police for women! And I must tell you this anecdote: The morality police for women, one day, came across a girl playing in the streets, without veil. I cannot determine the age of the girl. It could have been pre-pubertal or pubertal, I’m not sure. They called out the mother and they told the mother: “This girl should not be playing like this, in the open. We must punish her.” So the mother said: “What is the punishment going to be?” They said: “We will bite her”. And the mother, without thinking too much said: “Okay, you can bite her.” So the lady put on an iron glove on her hand, with poison in the nails, grabbed the neck of the girl, squeezed her and the girl died of bleeding. So, the women I was sitting with, some of them, had committed crimes against humanity, as members of the morality police. The best I could get that tragic day, because I kept on going, and looking almost desperately for someone who would show signs of remorse, was when I ended up with a Kirghiz lady, married to a South Korean man. She was in a state of utter distress, so we didn’t sit down. We were just standing. I didn’t want to linger too long with her. And so this lady was constantly on the verge of crying. But even this lady could not come clean when using the word “wrong”, by saying “things went wrong” or “I was wrong”. The bottom line was that she equivocated between the two. “Things went wrong” or “was I wrong?” And she was constantly on the verge of crying, so I left her alone. But this is as close as I got, to a sense of remorse, of regret. People who committed crimes against humanity… The level of brainwashing was so comprehensive, so radical, so total that there was no going back.

If you want, I can also cite another reflection. This is I had when I went to see the ISIS “cubs”, twice. Very young age adolescents and up to 18 years old. There again, I had the same feeling, that people did not even realize the gravity of what they had been doing. They, again, claimed that they had not seen anything, not directly, some were smuggling cigarettes, doing porters’ jobs. But what I noticed, the difference between these young boys – obviously also many of them brainwashed – they were cheerful. Somehow, there was a sense of a chance for them to move on. These ladies… it was gloomy… through and through. And then I did my own research, just out of curiosity, speaking to a psychologist friend in Italy, and she told me that when you are brainwashed, you give up your previous identity and you join the group identity for the group which has brainwashed you. So it is literally, when you do so as an adult, almost impossible to revert to your previous identity, because it would be equivalent to killing yourself. That is why, we find it so difficult to de-traumatize people who had been so profoundly radicalized. But she also told me that when you have been radicalized when you are still in your formative years, then you may stand a better chance to be retrieved as an individual identity, from the group identity, because even if you killed your previous self, your self was still in formation. So you can still retrieve your self as an adult. And I saw this positivity in the ISIS “cubs”. I didn’t see it in these women, which was a truly shocking experience.

MF: Somehow more shocking than speaking to those whom they had held captive and who were liberated finally?

BG: Yes, thank you for asking this question. Because in French, you call it “pudeur.” I don’t know how you say “pudeur” in English. Modesty? “Pudeur” is the sense of modesty about your emotions. Through and through, I was impressed and encouraged by the sense of “pudeur”, of modesty about the emotions of the displaced people, who suffered horrendously under ISIS rule. With my curiosity, I would drill very deep! But all I could get was: “They asked us to cut the jellabiya at the ankle level, they asked us to grow the beard, they forbade us from smoking…” Listening to this, not once did I find, despite this horrendous suffering, a person who was willing to open up and describe graphically what they saw. They were traumatized of course. But they felt this thing was so deep, that they felt “pudeur” in sharing it. So, they would only share the banal details of daily life. But they would never describe. Ashamed? Maybe. Anyway, something that I found noble, in a way. Noble. Not to put in front of you that unspeakable violence, but rather to restrain themselves. That was on the other side. I never found someone complaining, when you scream from pain. No, always the greatest dignity in bearing the tremendous scars that were left over by ISIS.

MF: Bruno, you were many situations – particularly now in Baghdad but also previously in your career – where you were putting your own life at risk. Is this something that you think about or worry about?

BG: Very rarely. First of all, because I enjoy the contact, I enjoy shaking hands and enjoy exchanging. And of course, I have this compassion, which just comes natural to me. So if I’m not in a crowd, I cannot do my job properly, according to my very personal standards. I do remember, though, that on one occasion, when I went the first time to Mosul – the second time! – I went to see the department of resilience and there were huge queues of displaced people, queuing there for documents. Massive crowds and in that moment I felt: “Oh yes, this will be a perfect place for a suicide bomber”, but you know a fleeting moment in an event. I mean, I’m wearing my flak jacket, so be it.

I did experience [fear] a little bit in Somalia with al-Shabaab, but in fact after ISIS, to me, Shabaab are literally boys! So, I put things in proportion. But I was scared of them when I was in Somalia. There was a time, it must have been in the beginning of 2015 [in Iraq], where I would have these thoughts maybe in gloomy moments. I would see a scene where I could be kidnapped by ISIS, and because I was reading these daily bulletins of their atrocities, and I was totally repulsed by them, sometimes in the beginning I would imagine a situation of an ISIS kidnapping. And, of course, I would be very scared. But again it was a passing moment, it didn’t stay with me for a long time. The joy of being with people would always prevail, and of course, you have close protection but you know that is given. It’s your own inner security or insecurity. I always feel secure. And joyful of being with them. And only on these two occasions. One, imagining a kidnapping, I was truly scared – but it was a dialogue with myself. And the other, that fleeting moment, because it was a large crowd. There could have been a suicide bomb… It would have been a perfect location.

MF: Bruno, it seems like you’re kind of unstoppable. Is there anything that could prevent you from continuing?

BG: No, this is also a question I’ve been asking myself in introspection in the last year. Iraq has been relentless and remorseless and ruthless in every aspect. So I was asking myself: “But do I have a limit? How much bad news? How much distress can I take? How much turning 24/7 almost every day of the year?” And my conclusion was I don’t want to know my limits. I have to manage myself better, so I didn’t reach my upper limit, but this experience has been so intense that, indeed, I asked myself the question “How much can I take?” I don’t want to get a burnout. In fact, I have to be an example to my colleagues, several of them got burnt out, but I have to manage myself better. Managing myself in such a way that I would not reach my upper limit, I hope.

MF: Is managing yourself difficult?

BG: It is difficult, because, I can have a short fuse sometimes, when the news is terrible or more than bad. So I have really to watch and be self-conscious. This is an effort, but I think I’m making some progress, I hope, to be self-conscious of managing myself better.

MF: Bruno, thank you so much for speaking to us for this podcast. I wish you all the best.

BG: Thank you, it was a pleasure.

MF: Thank you for listening to Awake at Night. To find out more about the series and see pictures of Bruno in the field, do visit You can find us on Facebook @UNHCR. On Twitter we are @refugees and I am @melissarfleming. Please spread the word about the series using #awakeatnight.

If you were inspired and moved by this episode, do subscribe to Awake at Night wherever you get your podcasts. And, if you could, could you take time to review the podcast? It would help us spread the word and get more attention to the people who serve humanity.

Thanks to the fantastic design and studio teams here at UNHCR, and to my producers Bethany Bell, and Laura Sheeter of Chalk and Blade. The sound design was by Pascal Wyse and the original music for this podcast was written and performed by Nadine Shah – and produced by Ben Hillier.



Bruno Geddo visits the Hammam al Alil transit centre south of Mosul, Iraq, in February 2019. He was trying to find out why people kept arriving long after the fighting was over. They told him they were seeking relief from poverty and insecurity. ©Courtesy of Bruno Geddo

While serving as UNHCR’s Representative in Somalia in 2011, Bruno Geddo, left, accompanies then UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres on a visit to meet with internally displaced people in Doolow, in southwestern Somalia. ©UNHCR/Siegfried Modola

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