Some stories for world refugee day

I worked with Z at the free clinic in Washington D.C. She and her husband were from the Ogoni tribe in the Rivers state of Nigeria, where all the oil is.  She told me how Shell has caused oil spills all over their land and water, with no clean-up efforts, with no resources coming back into the community.  A group of activists were protesting this, including Z’s husband.  One day, Z arrived at the hospital where she worked as a nurse, and was handed a message: grab your baby son, and go into hiding in the bush.  They are coming for you and your son to get to your husband.  They hid in the bush for three days, and were smuggled into Benin.  Ten leaders of the activist group were hanged in a public square by the country’s military Junta.  Z and her family eventually were given asylum in the US.  They could not return home to see family until the junta fell, years later.  She still will never buy Shell gas.

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When Issa decided to flee Darfur, he and a friend flew to Cairo, and then hired smugglers to take them to Israel.  At the border fence, Issa was shot by Egyptian soldiers, and impaled on the barbed wire.  He was later found by a joint Israeli-Egyptian patrol, who according to the story I heard, first argued over whose responsibility the body was, before realizing that he was still alive.  He was medevaced to Soroka, and underwent emergency surgery that saved his life, but some things cannot be repaired and he was partially paralyzed below the waist.  Some BGU students found out that he was due to be released, in a wheelchair, with nowhere to go, no access to rehabilitation services.  A Christian missionary hostel for recovering addicts agreed to take him in.  A family doctor from PHR took on his medical needs.  A physical therapy student created a rehabilitation plan for him; my friends and I from the international medical school took shifts helping him with his physical therapy exercises and showering.  A group of Israeli students wrote a letter to the Ministry of Health begging them to give him health care.  When that failed, they wrote to the newspapers.  A social worker from Tel Sheva would come and visit sometimes, just to see how Issa was doing.  Issa would answer his questions with “illhamdul’la, illhamdul’la,” thank God, thank God.

One day, his friend from Darfur, with whom he’d tried to cross the border, came to visit.  His friend was working as a farm laborer, with one day off a month.  The friend took a six-hour bus ride to visit Issa, and a six hour bus ride back. The Sudanese refugee community in Arad heard about him and tried to help him out as they could.  Issa’s roommates in the hostel helped him out too, and also stole his pain medications.  Issa’s request for asylum in Israel was denied.  An anonymous donor read that article and paid for Issa to go to a private rehabilitation hospital.  Eventually, he was given asylum, in Sweden.

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I was volunteering at the front desk of the refugee clinic at the Tel Aviv bus station.  A middle-aged woman demands that we help her; there are others ahead of her in line and we insist that she wait, she is not particularly pleasant about that, and keeps pressing us.  We finally get to her, she is here with her mother’s ID and paperwork, her mother lives in Yaffo but has only a Palestinian ID.  Her mother also has suspected cancer in her abdomen. The daughter’s behavior is suddenly more understandable.  I look at the paperwork, the mother’s doctor ordered a CT and she has no insurance.  We can help her set up the CT, we cannot help her pay for it, which seems to be the real problem.  And we cannot help pay for the treatment and drugs that will follow.

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