“They Treated Me Like a Human Being”

July 20, 2023

InfoPark program participant (not Noor) in Bosnia

My name is Noor, and I’m 28 years old. I was born in Tunisia, where I lived with my father, mother and three sisters. Due to the economic situation, my mother, who is of French descent, wanted our family to move to France. However, my father refused, and when I was just 5 years old, my mother left home, returned to France and left me and my sisters with our father in Tunisia. Later, my father remarried a Tunisian woman who wanted her own family and didn’t want us. We ended up in an orphanage for children without parents and remained there until we reached adulthood.

Eventually, my older sister got married to a kind man who allowed me and my other sister to live with them. I completed my schooling in their home and graduated from law school. However, after my studies, I had to become independent and worked as a cleaner in shops and houses to support myself. Unfortunately, my father took all of my earnings, which went on for some time. Even during my time in the orphanage, I tried reaching out to my mother in France with the help of the orphanage director. During our conversation, my mother told me that she had also remarried and started a new family, and she no longer wished to have any contact with us. She asked me not to reach out to her anymore. Despite this, I couldn’t help but hold onto the dream of reuniting with my mother and embracing her, even though she had moved on without me.

When student demonstrations against the Tunisian government began, I joined the students in the street protests at the university. The number of participants grew each day, and I eventually became one of the leaders of the demonstrations. One night, a colleague called and informed me that several young men who had been with us on the streets had been arrested and sentenced to seven years in prison. Realizing the danger, I knew I had to escape. I managed to obtain a student visa for Turkey and fled the country.

In Turkey, I began my studies, but the language barrier made it incredibly difficult. I made attempts to learn, but life in Istanbul was tough, and I couldn’t continue my education. Instead, I had to work as a cleaner again, taking on various cleaning jobs in houses and shops.

One day, while working at a shop, the owner attempted to assault me. That incident became my turning point, and I decided to escape once again. With no hope for the situation to improve, I joined a group of migrants and traveled to Greece. We crossed the sea in a rubber boat and stayed on a Greek island for two months. Eventually, we were allowed to move to a refugee center in Athens, from where we planned to continue our journey. With the assistance of a smuggler, we crossed from Greece to Macedonia, where we stayed for a day before heading to Serbia.

As soon as we entered Serbia, we arranged for a taxi driver to take us to Belgrade. Arriving in Belgrade, I found myself sitting on a bench in a park where refugees gather, unsure of what to do next. It was then that members of the InfoPark organization approached me and offered their help and a visit to their premises. I immediately felt safe and welcomed there. InfoPark listened to my story and helped me settle into a refugee center in Belgrade.

From that day forward, I visited InfoPark regularly to seek help with various matters, particularly in communication with other organizations and institutions. They supported me with necessary medical examinations and provided invaluable assistance in navigating the legal aspects, especially when I contemplated applying for asylum in Serbia. Most importantly, they treated me like a human being, offering a listening ear and acceptance, restoring my faith in myself and in humanity.

Despite the support and safety I found in Serbia, I have made the decision to continue my journey to France. The longing to see my mother again has only grown stronger, and I yearned to start a new life close to her. I’ve managed to make my way to Italy, but my journey came to a halt here. Currently, I am still in Italy, where life is good, resembling the life I experienced in Serbia. For now, I plan to stay here for a while, taking the time to determine my next steps.

The memories of my time in Serbia, the connections I made and the conversations I shared at InfoPark, as well as the support they provided, will forever hold a special place in my heart. I am immensely grateful to InfoPark for extending their helping hand when I had lost faith in receiving any help, especially from strangers.

Someday, when I have the privilege of holding a passport, I would love to return to Serbia. This time, it won’t be as a refugee but as someone returning to visit friends.

This story was produced by Mirjana Nesic Gender Specialist/GBV Protection Officer at InfoPark. To learn more about our work in Eastern Europe, click here.