Christa Awuor, UNHCR. Photo: Warsame Elmi, Sveriges Radio.
Christa Awuor, UNHCR. Photo: Warsame Elmi / Radio Sweden

Website helps refugees learn truth about journey to Europe

3:32 min

Many refugees fleeing the Horn of Africa do not know what awaits them on the journey to Europe or after they arrive, and now a new website, Telling the Real Story, aims to give Somalians and Eritreans a more accurate picture.

At 17, Muhiim was kidnapped in Somalia, sexually assaulted, chained and tortured by an armed gang. She managed to escape and fled to Ethiopia and eventually Europe. Along the way, she was imprisoned for months by a smuggler in the Libyan desert and subjected to unthinkable cruelties.

Muhiim's story is one of many on the Stockholm-based site Telling the Real Story, which was created by the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Christa Awuor is the project's director and she told Radio Sweden that the refugees’ stories need to be heard. She and her colleagues were surprised at how little people knew before embarking on their journeys to Europe, she said.

"They generally did not know about the smugglers, they did not know about the traffickers, they did not know about the situation in Libya. And unfortunately, all of the women except one had been sexually assaulted," Awuor said.

Another story told on the UNHCR site is by Yohannes from Eritrea. In a video, he explains that those who successfully reach Europe usually contact their friends in refugee camps in Sudan or Ethiopia via Facebook or Viber. But he said that they do not tend to say what they went through to get to Europe. Instead, they only talk about small things that they achieved after reaching their destination and this is why, Yohannes says, people get a false impression of what fleeing is really like.

The purpose of Telling the Real Story is to convey the truth about the dangers of refugees' journeys to Europe, but it also explains that refugees face many challenges after reaching their goal, Awuor said.

"Eventually they might be able to make it, but it is also important to make individuals understand that success does not come easily. Many thought that, as soon as they get to Europe, they will get a home and money, but this is not the case," Awuor said.

In Europe, many refugees face a long and arduous process of getting a residence permit and becoming established in their new home. Many experience the stresses of unemployment, poverty and alienation.

"We're not out to stop them from coming but it's a moral responsibility for us as an organization to give unbiased information about what people can expect to encounter, so that they can be pyschologically prepared," Awuor said.

Our journalism is based on credibility and impartiality. Swedish Radio is independent and not affiliated to any political, religious, financial, public or private interests.
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