diners hear refugee’s ordeal

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Gambian journalist, Musa Saidykhan, shared his horror story with hundreds of diners at the Bethany’s second annual dinner held in Grand Rapids, Michigan, on Thursday. With the help of Bethany, Mr. Saidykhan and family were resettled in Michigan in November 2008. Find below his speech below:

I am grateful to Bethany and its army of volunteers for throwing their full weight behind my family as soon we landed in United States. Bethany makes our resettlement process smooth by providing services and networking us with agencies and volunteers. This empowers us with the spirit of practical independence and lifetime relationships.  

 Your support, love and compassion have turned our fears, horrors and sadness into moments of happiness, courage and hope. May God bless all those who support refugees, God’s own family. Every refugee has a heart-breaking story to tell.  

My story is a combination of horror, faith, hope, and strength. This is a story that has been told countless times – in bus stations, workplaces, on the streets,   chatrooms, conferences, courts – everywhere.    

It started with my brush with a dictatorial regime of the Gambia that illegally arrested, detained and tortured me for serving a news-hungry population, correcting injustices and challenging the power of incumbency at home. I became a thorn in the dictator’s flesh when I was appointed editor of The Independent, a bi-weekly newspaper known for maintaining strong and vibrant editorial independence.

I used my position to defend human rights in the Gambia. In the process I used every available means and chances. I spoke at conferences, took part in peaceful protests and issued petition to people who matter, including presidents. Any time I was arrested, the dictator would be inundated with international protest calls and emails. But he wouldn’t be at peace with himself until he nailed me down, and was waiting for a perfect time to do so. Then a so-called coup d’état was reportedly foiled on March 21st, 2006. This gave him the chance to lay hands on all his perceived enemies, including me. His regime’s plans to frame me up had woefully failed. The horrendous tortures had left scars all over my body and a broken hand. I was released without charge following widespread international pressures and threats from Thabo Mbeki, former South African President.

All the doctors I had approached refused to examine me, let alone treat me. One doctor gave me painkillers and asked me to leave for fear of being witch-hunted. For security and medical reasons, I fled with my pregnant wife three weeks later to Dakar, Senegal, where we spent two and a half years, amid insecurity and nostalgia. Due to security threats, we had to move five times. Both Senegal and UNHCR became concerned about our safety, and recommended our resettlement to the United States. My life in exile was well spent; I worked full-time and read French. 

Nothing ever becomes real until it is experienced. It was a painful decision for me to leave behind my country, family, friends, home, lifestyle, tradition and culture and fled into exile. Every part of my body, including my bones, felt the pains. Equally striking for me was to leave my beloved editorial desk in the hands of perpetrators without completing my mission. The dictator’s security machinery was in motion to eliminate me thus cutting my mission short.

Many people have been asking me one common question: “what kept you in tact?” I have gone through many challenging experiences in my life. But I don’t allow any of them to own or manage me. I am a conqueror who is always determined to conquer with the power of faith and courage. Whatever difficult situation I battled, my dreams kept telling me that I had a future. If I lose my dreams, I’ll surely be a goner. 

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About musa

I am a Gambian journalist whose mission to use his pen to correct injustice and to tell truth to power was left to bite dust. My newspaper's contents and editorials became "too itchy" that I ended up in Banjul's mosquito-infested cells where I had to cope with three nights of horrendous tortures that left scars all over my body. I was forced to flee into exile with my family, leaving behind my beloved country and editorial desk in the hands of perpetrators. However, unlike most refugees, my two and half years in Senegal was well spent.

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