They came rushing to the check-in line bewildered, excited, emotional. The flight to Bakamo was closing in 10 minutes. They were late, having travelled for 11 hours overnight from the transit camp near Djerba, Tunisia, where like many thousands of others, they were stranded for days. A frightening past; a dismal present; an uncertain future. But anxiety and weariness was masked by overwhelming joy; they were finally going home to family. These were Mali's refugees who had fled the madness in Libya through it's western border with Tunisia.
Excitement turned to desparation; collectively as a group they were 600 Kgs overweight at a cost of 9000 USD. How could these items be left behind? This is all they own; their lifes possessions. The eyes spoke and manifest the pain of the soul, "Please, please no more".
We did the necessary with Tunisian Air ground staff, who were exemplary in their patience, compassion, understanding, temperament and humanity.
Clutching onto what little they had, they ran to the boarding gates and freedom.
Government representatives commented that this was the first repatriation initiative in the world by an NGO in the Libyan Crisis. We felt deeply humbled by the acknowledgement not because we were first, but because, as Africans, representing South Africa, we responded to fellow africans; men, women, and childre, who otherwise, lived without hope.
This was Gift of the Givers' first batch of 40 refugees being repatriated. Tomorrow, the next batch of 12 depart for Mauritania. Later in the day, a Tunisian Air flight, chartered by Gift of the Givers, carrying 160 Sudanese refugees will fly to Khartoum with our representatives on board. This whole effort was co-ordinated in association with IOM, Embassies of the respective refugees, the Tunisian Foreign Ministry and the OIC.
In the meantime, an additional 10 000 USD of essential supplies were distributed in Ras Jidr, the camp of origin of these refugees.
Pictured below : Dr Sooliman accompanying a Sudanese child refugee on a plane chartered by Gift of the Givers to repatriate 157 Sudanese refugees from the war in Libya. Gift of the Givers team flew from Tunisia to Sudan with the refugees