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Tagwa and Katarzyna in Maastricht, The Netherlands

Tagwa’s story

Katarzyna Kot-Majewska, Junior Protection Officer in South Sudan tells story of Tagwa, a Sudanese refugee:

I heard about Tagwa for the first time right upon my arrival to Juba in September 2013. Sara, my predecessor in UNHCR Protection Unit, said: “There is this fantastic girl from Gendrassa camp. She achieved the best result in the South Sudanese national final primary school exam and she was granted a scholarship in the United World College in Maastricht in the Netherlands. You have to meet her!” It later turned out that getting Tagwa out of South Sudan would be one of my major tasks in the first months of my mission.

I met her in October. She was smiling timidly and hoped to fulfill her dream of higher education. “I would love to go to secondary school but there is none here at the camp” she said. “Otherwise, I will be married soon like so many other girls of my age. I do not want this to happen. I want to be a journalist and describe all the bad things we all experienced because of the war”. At that time, she was already working as a volunteer for a local radio in the camp.

Tagwa had escaped from her home town, Damazin, in Blue Nile State of Sudan, together with her parents and five siblings, when in September 2011 fighting spread in the city. Since an internal conflict started between Sudanese Armed Forces and Sudan’s People’s Liberation Movement-North in 2011, about 210,000 Sudanese sought asylum in newly-established South Sudan. Tagwa’s family finally arrived in Maban County in April 2012 and was registered by UNHCR as refugees in Gendrassa camp.

I really wanted to help her in her goal. Getting the scholarship was actually only a part of success: we still had to ensure travel documents, visas, yellow fever vaccination… South Sudan is a new country, with developing institutions and no refugee travel documents had so far been issued here, so obtaining them for Tagwa was the most difficult task

On 15 December, just hours before our appointment to collect the document, the tanks rolled out to the streets of Juba and the fighting started. For several days we were in lockdown. As the fighting spread thousands of people left the country, others sought refuge in various locations, including UN bases. We could only re-start the process in January 2014. Granting Tagwa the very first ever so called Convention Travel Document issued in the newest country of the world was probably among the very few good news coming from South Sudan those days.

In April 2014 Tagwa said good bye to us. She was happy and curious to learn the new reality but also anxious about leaving her family behind. All UNHCR staff from South Sudan who got to know her keep their fingers crossed. Who knows, one day, maybe we will hear about a famous journalist Tagwa, a former Sudanese refugee.