Musa, 32 years old, from Darfur, Sudan
“We all need to work a lot for our community and at the same time work for our home,” said Musa, 32. His instructions to his fellow asylum seekers were clear. “We are in exile…we have a responsibility to make change happen in our home country so that we can go back.”
Throughout Musa’s life he has always felt an obligation to help others. Some of his earliest memories are of trips to the market to buy food for his grandparents in their village of Mara. Located in West Darfur, Musa grinned while recalling his village’s food. “My favorite memory is of a dish called Aseeda. We would dry millet in the sun, grind it into flour, and eat it with soup, okra, and meat. I really miss it.”
Musa left Mara for Khartoum in 2001 to help his father work in construction and to attend school. In 2003 the Janjaweed attacked Mara, destroying the village and killing Musa’s grandparents. Luckily, the rest of his family escaped to a nearby refugee camp. At the end of 2004, Musa went to visit them. Along the way, Sudanese soldiers overheard Musa speaking Fur with a waitress. The same soldiers captured Musa and began to beat him. “You cannot imagine how they treat human beings,” said Musa.
Upon arrival at the refugee camp, Musa was threatened by local militias and was determined to flee. After two months of hiding, Musa returned to Khartoum to finish high school and then joined the United People’s Front, a political organization that opposed the Sudanese government’s policies. Musa was arrested again. While in captivity, he was beaten countless times and was made to crawl across floors covered with shattered glass. After four months, Musa was released under the condition that he would work as an undercover operative within the United People’s Front. Knowing he would always be in danger under government auspices, he fled Sudan in 2011 for Egypt.
Musa entered Egypt as the country was undergoing tremendous political upheaval. As a result, Egyptian officials were deporting asylum seekers back to Sudan and the situation proved too dangerous for him to stay. With nowhere else to go, Musa paid a Bedouin smuggler to take him to Israel. The smugglers quickly became his new torturers. They demanded $12,000 from Musa and each of his fellow travelers, and threatened to kill the group and harvest their organs if the money was not paid.
Musa described his time under the smugglers’ control as “the hardest thing I have experienced in my life.” Chained in a tent to four other refugees, he was only given one slice of bread and two cups of water a day. After nine days of abuse the Egyptian army chased the smugglers away from their campsite, leaving Musa and the others free to walk to the Israeli border.
After successfully crossing the Egyptian-Israeli border, Musa was placed in the Israeli Saharonim detention facility. After his discharge he was issued a conditional release visa and started to look for work in Tel Aviv. Musa immediately noticed that many other newcomers did not speak English or Hebrew. He brought them to the refugee clinic and translated for them as they sought work.
He began his involvement with the Darfur Friends Association, a community-based organization, and later became its spokesperson. Musa has also been helping other asylum seekers fill out their Refugee Status Determination applications as they sought to be recognized as refugees in Israel.
Some of Musa’s most rewarding moments as an activist were the “cultural days” he planned. He loves witnessing his community enjoy the diverse food and music of the various Sudanese ethnic groups. Musa now teaches asylum seekers courses on refugee rights and recently organized a protest in front of the European Commission to condemn Europe’s inaction on the war crimes and genocide still occurring in Sudan.
Musa sees his work as deeply personal. “It is what gives me the energy to work for the community and my home, to make a change.” He believes that being an asylum seeker requires action. “We are in exile and we have a lot to do to make change happen in our own country, for Darfur to have peace and stability.”
Musa tries to never forget the individuals for whom he is fighting. “I am really proud of all my family and friends who are all there when I need their help.” Careful to return the favor, he now lives in Tel Aviv to support his uncle who recently suffered a stroke. Yet his mind is never far from Darfur. “I miss my family there. This year marks the tenth year that I last saw them. I hope to meet them soon.”
Photos & Story: Untold Stories of Success