Mohamed Daood Ali, a refugee from Sudan’s Darfur region, had not spoken to his mother in two years while he was held in a detention centre in Libya. He left Darfur and travelled to Libya in the hopes of crossing the Mediterranean to Europe but never made it out.
Mohamed escaped beatings, extortion, torture and rape. He finally found some relief in safely reconnecting with his family, who he feared them dead after they lost contact.
“Things never worked out the way I had hoped,” Mohamed admits.
Mohamed breathes deeply and finds the courage to dial a number sent to him by a relative on Facebook. It is the first time since he was detained that he has been able to communicate freely.
“Hello mum,” he says, after a woman’s voice answers.
He is sitting on a step outside his new safe accommodation at a refugee transit facility in Gashora, in south-eastern Rwanda, with a cell phone pressed on his ear.
“Who am I speaking to?” his mother says, in Arabic.
“It’s me, Mohamed,” he said.
“Mohamed Daood? Mohamed Daood how are you?” she says and laughs with the voice broken by surprise.
Mohamed is one of the hundreds of refugees to land in Rwanda from Libya since September on evacuation flights organized by UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency. The agency has assisted more than 2,250 refugees and asylum seekers to leave Libya in 2019 including 840 that have been resettled to a third country.
More than 1000 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean this year.
Phone calls like Mohamed’s joy worried family members who fear their loved ones may have perished.
“I am in Rwanda, mother,” Mohamed adds, tears rolling down his face. “Things never worked out the way I had hoped.”
“My mum said, this is not a safe place for you.”
The 32-year-old accounting student fled Darfur, a region in the west of Sudan that has been devastated by conflict since 2003 when rebels took up arms against the government. His mother insisted him to leave after he was arrested at a student protest and released with a warning never to speak about Darfur.
“My mum said, this is not a safe place for you. Just find a safe place or might be killed,” Mohamed recalls. “Many students who were with me were killed.”
His family put together the little money they had to send him away to find a safe place that translated into a journey that took him to Egypt and onwards to Libya.
Then, Mohamed tried to cross the Mediterranean by a makeshift boat but was arrested on his journey through the Libyan capital of Tripoli. Indeed, everyone who tries to enter or leave Libya without legal documentation are often at risk of being arrested and imprisoned.
“When we arrived [in the detention centre], there were people who had not seen the sun for one year,” he said. “People say you are a slave and they beat you, and there is no food.”
This is the fate that more than 2,500 refugees and asylum seekers face when held in detention centres in Libya, according to UNHCR. Statistically, 306 have been evacuated to Rwanda under a deal between its government, UNHCR and the African Union.
Mohamed is now helping with Arabic translations at the transit centre and says he is happy in Rwanda but hopes he can be resettled to another country to start a new life, a life he can finally take the reins of.
“Everything is still the same back home, and because of this, I cannot go back. I need to follow my education and work hard to help my people - that is my hope right now,” he says.
Listen to Mohamed's story and his own words here