“Right now we are forgetting our past, we think about future what will happen to our country and our family? They are still waiting there they have to return back to our village. They have to start new life in our village. We will go there to help t them. Right now they are depending on foreign aids like food, water and shelter from other countries.”
Saad Omar Adam
Over the course of the Spring 2015 semester, we had the pleasure of speaking with Saad Omar Adam about his journey from the turbulent Darfur region of Sudan to Durham, North Carolina. Saad was kind and welcoming. His words, though soft-spoken, were inspiring and we were continually impressed by his optimism. We thank Saad and his friends for sharing this significant part of their lives with us and are excited to pass along his words here.
Below are some of the stories that Saad shared with us and photos from our visits. As much as possible, we have opted to use quotes so as to allow his stories to be told in his original voice.
— Rinchen Dolma and Oren Bukspan
Saad Omar Adam is originally from Donki Dreisa, Sudan, a village located in the country’s South Darfur region. Common occupations in Donki Dreisa included rearing animals like cows, sheep, goats, donkey, horses some people have camels. Some families owned around 1000 sheep and goats. “We use animals like donkeys and horses for means transportation. We grow onions, Sudanese beans, during the summer we can sell those crops, but it is not necessary to trade as everyone is very self sufficient they grow what they eat.” Saad finished until the second year of high school because his father passed away. As a result he had to withdraw from school to support his family as all his younger siblings were in school that time. “I looked for jobs and started working, as we didn’t have any other support.”
In February 2003 the War in Darfur began, the Sudan Liberation Movement/Army (SLM/A) and justice and Equality Movement rebel groups began fighting the government of Sudan which they accused of oppressing Darfur’s non-Arab population. The government responded to attacks by carrying out a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Darfur’s non-Arabs. This produced the deaths of tens to hundreds of thousands of civilians. During that time like many other people in Sudan, Saad also had to leave his country in 2004. The militia “started to attack the villages; they stole animals and killed many people. In the last three years the situation in Sudan is very very difficult. Now there is no village, all the people in Darfur are in camps and around 2 million people in Chad. The government attacked more than 400 villages in one year.” They stole animals and now all the people from those villages are in the camps. That is a huge problem, as now they have nothing. Before Sudan was good. It’s not like now.”
Listen to Saad’s story
“Before the war life was happy, they celebrated different festivals and holy days like Ramadan, people invite each other to their homes. People were happy and there was no problem for example if you want to walk from Chad to Ethiopia, no one asks you any question. It was very safe but when war erupted you can’t move outside your home. In our village there are around 1000 houses. But now there is nothing, the government stole all the animals; kill the animals to the Arab countries. In our village there are around 1000 houses. There are more than 100 tribes and each tribe has their own tribal languages but all everyone speaks Arabic language as a common language.”
When they were escaping the war from Sudan to Libya they came on the huge trucks. From his city to Libya it took one month. “You have to bring everything with you, water, food and clothes. Inside Sudan it was not difficult but in the last city it was difficult as there was the security custom, since we were not coming legally, they had to escape because there is war everywhere. In case the government catches you then they will force you to be one of the soldiers. So it was very dangerous that is why we had to escape, during the escape if you have student ID it helps, as they don’t ask many questions like ‘what is your nationality where are you moving? If you have the student card then they don’t ask you many questions.’” Saad successfully made his journey to Libya and spend almost seven years there. While he was in Libya he tried almost five times to escape to Europe but failed for the first four attempts. Sometimes the police caught them; sometimes their boat driver was not good. However when war began in Libya in 2011, it was easier to escape the country so he left Libya to Malta. Saad’s original plan was to go UK but during in order to reach there, they had to cross multiple countries on the way. They were caught by the Maltese border security.
Is everybody coming to Malta by boat?
“I wouldn’t say everybody comes by boat but a lot of them come by boat because it’s very difficult to get visa from Africa to Europe. It’s expansive and it is so much money. That is why you have to move by boat. With a little money you can go but if you apply for the visa or go by plane it’s a lot of money. They can’t guarantee, many people have tried before. Coming by boat is illegal, sometimes policemen catch you then you go to prison in Libya. Malta is in Europe, they can’t catch you but if they catch you, then put you in prison and interview you. From there some people will be given refugee protection and some people will be rejected. If the police see you they will catch you and return back to your country.
“When we came, the government caught us from the sea. They put us in the military ship and told us to make fingerprint, told us to write our name and country and took us to the camp. The camp is near the airport; there wasn’t anything to see except the airplanes flying up and down and the soldiers. Soldiers brought us food and they were the security personnel. If you have good case countries like us or countries like Sudan, Eritrea and Somalia, which have problems such as war conflicts, get protection from the government. Other countries can’t take subsidiary protection; they get rejected, as they can’t pass their cases because other countries are safe. Those people have to wait for like 18 months for double rejection but they have to wait for one year. But for us within 6 months we get the subsidiary.”
In the first camp they were not allowed to move anywhere.
“The first one is more like a prison but the Maltese government says it’s a camp. From there you need to take an interview about yourself and where you are from and why did you come here kind of questions. If you have a good case, then they would provide you subsidiary protection and you have the freedom to move around.”
Subsidiary protection is a temporary protection from the Maltese government as “it’s a small country so we stay there temporarily. They can’t give you the nationality; if you need a passport they give it for one year. Then you have to move to any countries in Europe but not in England and Ireland. You can go to 25 or26 countries. You have to go to Africa and get the visa and name the country where you want to move, they will provide you the visa. Protection is very good, if you don’t have that they would catch you and return back to you country. If you have protection they can’t deport you back to your country.”
In the first camp they lived with more than 470 people and in many ways he felt they were treated like prisoners. Most people are from around 17 countries. In one camp there are more than 400 people. Most people are coming from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Sudan, Somalia, Chad, Nigeria and Ghana, Senegal and Congo etc. They are coming from different countries from Africa, even from Pakistan, Bangladesh, Iraq and Egypt etc. However not all the people would get legal documents from Maltese government. He stayed in that camp for almost 6 months and thirteen days.“There you have to stay inside all the time and you watch Television. There is a small football ground we could play football. You can’t move anywhere. It’s a very small space even the beds are like prison beds. Two beds are joint together one on the upper part and one lower.” After 6 and 13 days they were moved to a relatively better condition camp.
“Even the other camp, the beds were so small but that is you have to move in anyway. The social security people are looking for people for job so you just need to inform them. If you have experience then they can get a job with the company of their choice. I applied through social security office, they gave me good job, I worked in a school for one year. They give you money and the job is legal. But there are people who are working illegally. Some of these people are working with Arab people without document. If the police catch them it’s a problem.”
Compare to the previous facility the second camp was relatively better but that place challenging too. In one room there were 14-18 people and some rooms. “When you come back from work and want to use the toilet or you take a shower you have to wait in queue because there were so many people and limited resources.” Therefore eventually he rented an apartment with his friends. The social security office gave them $300 per month to use towards apartment rents and foods. From then they applied for refugee facility and waited for two years and seven or eight months.
During their stay in Malta the Maltese government gave them papers and ID card like a temporary residency card. According to Saad under that subsidiary protection “everything works as if you are the resident of the country. If you don’t have money and document it’s like Mexicans here. It’s same in Malta and anywhere in Europe but I don’t know about Italy. I stayed in Malta for exactly 3 years and 4 months. Then I moved here.”
Before you got the call did you know you were going to go to America or was it a surprise?
When he got call from IOM about the News to get ready for the US. It was a surprise for him because in Malta Saad said he had a good job and he was working so he didn’t feel the one year and 8 months waiting time was not that long. However if you don’t have a job, that’s a problem and long time waiting. In Malta Saad had two different jobs. Before he started working in 2012, he sent money to a friend who had a huge clothing shops in Libya. In return his friend sends him things like clothes: Jeans, shirt and t-shirt. The camp in Malta was a big camp more than 2,000 people lived. He sold those clothes to the people in the camp and he “had many many customers. Sometimes people call me ‘Oh Saad, can you bring me jeans, and two pants.’ Ok. Wait a minute. You call me in the evening, I can write it, then I say “tell me the size, tell me how many jeans, in which color” he delivered those orders after his work. I He said he “did it for every week. The first 100, brought 200, 300, 400 and then 500 Euro for every week. In my job I made 200 euro every week. But my business, 500 euro. 500 euro, that’s like 650 dollars a week – that’s very good money.” As a result of his business and busy working life in Malta he didn’t feel the waiting time was that long.
Life in Durham
“My life in America is good, because I came here, after 20 days I get my permit. In Malta I had my license, here I get my permit after 20 days. After 3 months, last december, 16th of december, I got a car. That car I sold it, because it was old. I changed it to another car. Toyota Camry 2006. Then I got my license on the 12th of January – an American license. Then I opened a bank account. I opened a credit card. I got the job after one month.
Now I want to start to learn English in Durham Tech, but I am waiting for the summer time. I have to start learning English at Durham Tech, because America is different, not like Malta not like Africa. Here the first thing is you have to understand good English and speaking and writing. And then after that. Because I think before I have to change my job. Because it’s little money – $9 per hour. So that’s $280 per week. So that is very small money. In the beginning you have to wait, then learn English, then you have to change the job. I work the second shift, and I’ll have time in the morning, from 8 – 1:30, this is all the time I have. I have to do something during this time, I don’t want to lose my time.”
Before Saad started his first job, with help of CWS (Church World Service) he started bank account. He said, “I have to make the account [talked about credit cards, credit, insurance for the bank (collateral), and credit limit and building credit] before I start my job because when I start my job, there’s no time”
Today, Saad lives in Durham North Carolina with some of his friends who came together from Malta or Libya. Right now he doesn’t go to school but one day he wishes to continue his studies and wants to improve English. Once again we would like to thank Saad and his friends for sharing their incredible life stories with us.
Some of the Photos