It was only after several tries for a resettlement interview that I was finally in line for one. And fortunate at that.
The war was almost over and there was no mass resettlement as there used to be. In fact, it was coming to an end for all Sierra Leonean refugees living in The Gambia. We wept as our hopes were nearly dashed. The challenges were too many, which made many refugees give up. People resorted to any means. Some Nigerians acquired Sierra Leonean passports to see them out of Africa. It was concerning, so I decided to dig into the story, which I’d first thought would call the authorities to action. But who cared? It fell on deaf ears because some authorities gained a lot from it.
The confusion in The Gambia among refugees was overwhelming. Some felt left behind. Many had loved ones already resettled to the United States. Refugees were asked to live in the camp in Basse town [Basse Santa Su] if they wanted resettlement. Many stayed there in the hardest of life. The sun was excruciating, and the poverty level appalling and difficult for those who lived on handouts, handouts that were offered in town and reduced to scraps before refugees would get a share. I could not stay in this camp.
Many thought of returning home, but there was no money for their return and they had nowhere to return to, especially those whose houses were destroyed. The Gambia became unbearable and life was never as it used to be. I knelt and prayed for the will of God to be done in my life and for my family.
Read Augustine’s last installment, Another New Beginning, or scroll down to follow along in his incredible journey from the beginning
Rumors about resettlement abound. Many paid money for resettlement documentation to those who faked it. Some took others’ children for some amount to bring them along. The process brought untold problems, and while some got away with it, others were rejected for these ploys. Many had approached me to entice me to beg for space for Glen, my son. Little did I let them know our plan.
The day had come for me to talk to Fatou Barry, the refugee protection officer. I had been writing a lot about the UNHCR [United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees] and the agency’s plans for cutting down and stopping resettlement for Sierra Leonean refugees since the late President Kabba had declared the war over. People had different reasons to resettle, and some reasons were more advantageous than others, ranging from health, political persecution, religious persecution and any persecution similar to what I consistently received from the Gambian government. I knew the secret so I applied it fast: with my son Glen’s hospital documents from his heart ailment and surgeries.
I presented a document from the hospital in Chelsea, England, where Glen had surgery, to the protection officer, Fatou Barry. That was my entry point.
It noted that “Glen would need a further operation overseas.” There was a long explanation about the issues with him and what operations he underwent. I took it to the UNHCR. I prayed and walked and wondered what they would say.
I told them that it was too much for me, that those who were sponsoring me and my family were unable to further assist my son. So I would need government help, if there is any. I brought the boy’s photos and it moved Fatou Barry. She took it to Mr. Sekou Saho, the UNHCR’s Gambian head of office, who knew me well.
I was given the initial resettlement paperwork to bring to a doctor to fill out. I left the office in joy.
I headed to Banjul, The Gambia’s capital, in search of a doctor who may not demand money for this. I neither found a doctor nor anyone to bribe. None of the doctors there knew Glen and his health.
I found a friend, Ensa Marong. He had an idea. Ensa worked at the Royal Victoria Teaching Hospital and he knew a Nigerian doctor well. “I will see if Dr. Abdullah is free to help us,” Ensa said. But we could not find him that day. I left and went to find Dr. Sallah, the doctor who solved Glen’s health mystery. We knew he was a good doctor. But I never knew what his intentions would be.
I was there that morning after failing to see a doctor at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Banjul. It was difficult for me reaching Senegambia, where Glen’s doctor’s hospital was. I walked part way, and managed to enter and sat at his door. The secretary entered to tell Dr. Sallah I’d arrived and that apparently was a bad start. I remained there waiting until everyone was gone home. I attempted entering, but his secretary stopped me. He had escaped through one of his many doors leading to his car. I had to go away in shame and distress.
I would not relent. The opportunity will not pass by me, I thought, I will find a way out.
I was there again one early morning to see Dr. Sallah. I entered his office boldly. Upon seeing me with the document to be filled out, his countenance changed, showing a complete displeasure, and no interest in helping me. I certainly felt the rejection. But Gambians being who they are — haters of foreigners — I should have known, though he did not always show this side.
He was huge, black and tall. He wasted my time as if I had come to ask him for money. I was patient and went back to wait. All the patients came and went, and I still sat there waiting for him, for a chance to explain my motive. It was late in the evening, everyone had left but the secretary and I. She knew the doctor was not around but pretended as if he was in. He had snuck out again.
I left late that evening with a heavy heart. I walked home in tears. I wanted to keep it secret from my wife, Theresa.
Well, Dr. David Levine, an American doctor who was later deported from The Gambia, was a very close friend of my family. He was good at diagnosing and referring my family. He worked with an organization improving the lives of the poor through medicine and improving sanitation for the needy. He was very kind too to my family.
Dr. David came home to see how Glen was doing, and I discussed the UNHCR form with him, asking him to step in. There was no doubt he would try to use his influence, but he wanted it to be done from a hospital by a specialist like Dr. Sallah, who had been treating Glen from the outset.
I went back to the Royal Victoria Hospital with the document and to my friend, Ensa Marong. He was anxious to help me out. He took me to the Nigerian doctor, Abdullah he was called. He filled the paperwork out in less than no time, referencing Glen’s operation notes.
I was excited; this was a good start. I forgot about the indignities from Dr. Sallah. I was filled with joy noticing the job the doctor had done, signing and stamping the form. I thanked him several times and I was filled with tears for his generosity, since I was a complete stranger. I left his office in joy and thanked Ensa, whose family had adopted Dr. David.
I was in haste to reach home. I boarded a taxi.
Early the next day I rushed to see Fatou Barry. She was very delighted to see me complete the form for resettlement. She asked me to be ready for the work that was involved in the resettlement. I worked assiduously to raise funds from my reporting, since the first part was already settled.
The path ahead was built on what I had just achieved. I am ready!
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