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Sudanese refugee finally fulfils his dream

It took Zakaria Al Noor seven years to reach his final destination. Photo: Jason Borg

It took Zakaria Al Noor seven years to reach his final destination. Photo: Jason Borg

In 2004, a young Sudanese man fled his war-torn home in search of a brighter future. Seven years later, the aspiring electrician settled in Berlin and is fulfilling his dream of building a career in Europe.

Zakaria Adam Al Noor’s journey started when he was 15 years old. He planned his escape from Sudan, where he would have been forced to join the military once he was 18. He set off for Egypt to travel into Libya, where he was housed by his uncle for nine months.

On the eve of his 17th birthday, a dehydrated and €1,300 poorer Mr Al Noor found himself on a small boat crammed with Somalis, battling the deadly waves. The refugees, on their way to Italy, were intercepted by the Armed Forces of Malta and escorted to the island.

During his five-and-a-half-year stay in Malta, Mr Al Noor was taken in by a Maltese family. He made friends, earned money to travel around Europe and was given protection by the authorities.

“But every single day was a struggle through people’s stares and prejudice because of my skin’s colour. I was looked downed upon on the streets and the bus and denied access to clubs because of my skin colour,” Mr Al Noor said, retracing his stay in Malta.

“I did not run away from the war in Sudan just to survive but I wanted to live. I wanted to study and build a better future. Had I found better living conditions in Libya, I would have stayed in the North African country but I kept on searching,” he added.

Last October, Mr Al Noor joined 99 other refugees in a programme facilitated by the UN refugee agency UNHCR and left for Berlin.

“I realised I could not live in Malta anymore,” he said with a sad smile. “I never understood why, at times, I was denied my basic rights. There came a time when, no matter how hard I tried to understand why people were racist towards me, I realised I could not find a reasonable answer. And when I thought about my future offspring I realised they would have to go through what I’ve been through,” he added melancholically.

In Germany, he said, people minded their own business and did not make him feel any different from other German citizens.

Mr Al Noor acknowledged that racism is found everywhere but believes that in other European countries it would not be tolerated the way it is in Malta. While in Mediterranean countries it is more blatant, in other countries, like Holland and the UK, people are more used to different nationalities.

“Prejudice there is subtle and people keep racist thoughts to themselves. In this way, it does not hinder your everyday life and it usually is not based on the colour of your skin. It is a general apathy towards foreigners,” he added.

Mr Al Noor said he did not blame the Maltese for their attitude towards black people. “The Maltese are not used to seeing so many black people at once. Initially, kids would innocently point at us, exclaiming: ‘Look, he’s black’.

“I remember people ap-proached us with curiosity and it showed we were something new for them. I remember in Sudan we would follow white people out of curiosity,” the young man said, lost in his own past, so many miles away.

However, prejudice weighed down heavy on some of his friends’ interracial relationships who left Malta for some other country when intolerance infiltrated their everyday lives.

In Berlin, Mr Al Noor is following a nine-month, 600-hour long language course that would lay the foundation for a three-year electrical technician course. His studies and accommodation are funded by the German government.

“I miss Malta a lot. I miss my family and friends... and the weather. Initially, I could not settle down but I knew that everything is hard at first and every little thing would annoy you.

“When I first got to Malta, I planned to head back to Sudan if I didn’t manage to get used to the lifestyle and then maybe venture out to some other place in the future.

“However, I learnt I should never give up. If I failed at something, I would try something else,” he said.

As a teenager, Mr Al Noor realised that if he wanted to escape war he had to “jump out of the window, rather than take the door”. His cousin was killed in Southern Sudan only a few weeks after his six-month training period.

Nowadays, the inspiring man has settled down and is satisfied with his achievements. “I do not want to travel further away from Europe. I think I have travelled enough for now.

“My ultimate dream is just to live a good life. Only God knows our future and I cannot and do not want to plan my life,” Mr Al Noor said wearing a beaming smile.

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