Literary Activism

Harriet Levin Millan

Wednesday, April 30, 2008


Interview with Darfurian refugee Amira Tibin
By Shazia Mehmood, Drexel University Student

Unable to hold back her tears, Amira Tibin speaks of the recent government-backed attacks in Darfur that killed her uncle and left 200 people dead.

Tibin, 39, was born and raised in Al-Fashir, the capital of Darfur. In 1985, when Tibin was 15, fighting erupted.

“The government was not trying to find a solution,” Tibin explained. “The government was part of the problem. When the fighting started, they gave weapons to the tribes to fight against one another.”

The standing government has received international accusations for oppressing non-Arabs and supplying the Arabs with ammunitions. Although the two groups have historically coexisted in Sudan, Tibin discussed the cause of the current conflict:

“Colonization was part of it, but the government in Sudan widened the conflict. By giving weapons to the Arab tribes, racism resulted.” In a country full of rioting, Tibin explained, the government did not fulfill its duty to establish justice.

Tibin’s husband, Ibrahim, brought her near the people in power. Omar Al-Bashir, the current leader of Sudan, was raised in the same village as Ibrahim. Although they were close as children, their beliefs became polar opposites. When the rioting started, Ibrahim realized the government’s role in the conflict, and called a meeting with Al-Bashir. In doing so, he put his life on the line to speak out against the injustice.

Eventually Ibrahim escaped to Yemen with Tibin and their daughter, Emtithal. In Yemen, Tibin bore another daughter, Afaq. Tibin could not imagine leaving Africa, as her extended family was still in Sudan. However, she felt like an outsider living in Yemen, so she entered the lottery for immigration to the U.S.

“I did want my children to get a good education in America. But how could I be happy leaving my people in Sudan, when there is still so much suffering?” Tibin said.

After she was settled in the United States, Tibin and her family knew that they had to go back to Sudan to help others. They stayed in Sudan for six months in 2000.

“At that time,” Tibin recalled, “there were protests on the streets. Schools were closed because the government wasn’t paying teachers anymore. I saw people dying in front of my eyes. People were not only shot in the middle of the streets, but also in their houses. The Janjaweed could come any time and kill you, even during the day.”

“Janjaweed” translates as “the devil on the horse” — soldiers who rode into the cities with guns and bombs, attacking innocent civilians.

“While we were in Sudan, my daughters were very close to my younger brother, Saif, who was only 17 years old,” Tibin said.

Saif had plans to attend college, but the government forced men to join the national defense military.

“I told him not to go. But he had no choice. They would come into his house and take him if he didn’t go then,” Tibin said.

Tibin visited Sudan again in 2005. Saif was nowhere to be found. Tibin paused before discussing these deeply entrenched memories:

“We looked everywhere, called everyone, and traveled throughout Sudan. To this day, he is still missing.” Tears began to flow slowly from Tibin’s eyes, as she spoke of him.

Another one of Tibin’s brothers, Abdul, also served in the military, and his experiences have left him scarred. After serving his time, he was traveling back home, when bombing broke out. His closest friends were killed right in front of him. He survived by finding shelter under a bridge. The resulting psychological effects turned him into a quiet, reserved man, hopeless about the situation in Darfur.

Along with her two daughters, Tibin now has two sons, Imam, 5, and Abdullah, 7 months. When asked if she was happy, Tibin responded by saying, “No, I am not happy. I do like that my children are receiving an education, but I will never be able to forget about my people in Sudan. We receive calls frequently with news of another family member’s death. Just yesterday … the rioting. The problem has not been solved in Darfur, and until then, I cannot be happy.”

Despite the losses Tibin has faced, her desire to work toward peace in Sudan has grown even stronger. She is currently actively involved in a local grassroots organization, Darfur Alert Coalition (, to respond to the ongoing aggression in Darfur.

Tibin says that her great-grandparents’ stories of the beautiful city of Al-Fashir, filled with nomads, farmers, and businessmen working together peacefully have remained in her heart.

Shazia Mehmood, a senior at Drexel University, is a pre-medical student, majoring in history and political science.

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