giovedì 20 settembre 2012

Sister gives hope to trafficked migrants

By Elise Labott and Dan Morgan, CNN

Editor's note: Watch the CNNI documentary "Stand in the Sinai" on Friday September 21 at 1530 and 2030 GMT.
For thousands of African asylum seekers fleeing danger via Egypt's Sinai desert, one woman serves as an oasis after their harrowing journey into Israel.
She was born in Eritrea as Azezet Habtezghi Kidane. In the migrant shelters of South Tel Aviv, she is known simply as Sister Aziza.
In the free clinic for migrants run by the Physicians for Human Rights-Israel, where she volunteers as a nurse, Sister Aziza examines the African refugees. She sees burns and whip marks on the body of one of the men who fled to Israel though the Sinai.
"See how they tortured him," she asks. Then she sighs.
Another man describes how he crossed the River Nile, after which he was taken to a tent and beaten for two hours. He thought he was going to die. We don't know exactly what happened to him, but the migrants often fall prey to Bedouin gangs, which traffic people and extort money from them.
They are familiar sights and stories for Sister Aziza, who often travels to the border fence with Egypt to make contact with the asylum seekers.
After listening to so many of the migrants relive their journey, she found a pattern of abuse.
"You can realize immediately when a person comes in, before they tell you how much they have suffered," she tells CNN in an interview. "For me it becomes a very delicate moment with this person to ask many questions because their body speaks by itself."
Along with her colleagues at Physicians for Human Rights, she developed a questionnaire to document their stories. Over the last two years, Aziza has tirelessly conducted more than 1,300 interviews exposing chilling tales of kidnap, rape, torture, forced labor and sexual slavery.
"If anyone in the world today knows what is happening to people in the Sinai, each and every story, this is Aziza," says Ran Cohen, a colleague at Physicians for Human Rights. "If people are able to wake up every morning and keep hope, it is because what Aziza is telling and doing."
Sister Aziza is a focal point and a much appreciated personality among Africa's refugee community in Israel.
While some volunteers are intimidated by the hardships they see and grow frustrated when they cannot help, Aziza is often able to talk to them in their own language.
Some even call her mother because of the comfort she provides, whether it is a hug or simply just listening to them.
But her work doesn't end with the interviews. Sister Aziza forms close relationships with those who seek her help, takes them under her wing and accompanies them along their path to recovery.
"Sometimes they call me at one, during when I am sleeping. Sometimes during my prayer time," she says. "But I have to be for them. And it is because the wounds are healed, the wounds are cured by the doctors. But the internal suffering, the internal wounds to heal, it takes time. It takes strength, it takes faith, it takes courage, it takes a lot."
Earlier this year the U.S. State Department honored Sister Aziza with its Trafficking in Persons Heroes Award, along with Physicians for Human Rights, crediting her patience and devotion in getting the migrants to come forward with their stories.
Their firsthand accounts have helped shine an important light on the previously unknown atrocities of trafficking in the Sinai, the State Department said.
When asked how she copes with all the suffering she sees and hears about, Sister Aziza admits: "It's not easy."
"Even if today I cry, God, I say, 'Why do you allow to happen these things?' tomorrow I come to listen again. There is the strength that God gives me - and the strengths of them - the victims, my community, my sisters, the staff around me. It really gives me a lot of encouragement in order to come again."
Ran Cohen says Aziza has become a role model for her colleagues because of her faith and courage.
"I think that Aziza is paying a high individual price for her work. It's not easy at all," he says. "All these atrocities and all that she hears and after all we see, it is Aziza that keeps everyone with their head up and looking forward and believe that they can be a change and evil is not something that we have to accept."

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