Ghalia has been a migrant since 2006, when she left her native Algeria to study in Spain - and where she fell in love. Six years later she moved to Albania with her husband.
“I can’t express how much difficult was the beginning. I used to live in a well-developed Algerian rural area with more than 5,000 inhabitants and I ended up in a very poor Albanian village with just 13 households, with almost no facilities, no roads, no transportation. It was extremely difficult for me,” she recalls.
Despite the warm welcome, when the couple moved to the capital Tirana their problems persisted. All Ghalia wanted was a job with purpose.
Finally, in 2018 she spotted an advertisement from a local NGO looking for a translator for migrants from the Middle East and Arabic countries. “I was moved immediately by this call. Something beyond the job position was calling me, the desire to serve to those in need, to migrants, refugees and asylum-seekers” she says.
The fact that she is fluent in Berber, Arabic, Spanish, English, Albanian and French meant she was the top candidate and finally found her calling. In 2019 she moved to IOM, supporting people who wish to return home, counselling, translating, offering information to migrants and guiding them through the different process.
She loves her work, but finds working with refugees, migrants and people on the move to be extremely challenging. “You have to be strong and compassionate enough to hear the stories of people who are victims of trafficking, victims of war, torture, extreme poverty. You meet unaccompanied children and unprotected women, people in deep need for health services, food, clothes and other basic needs.
“You don’t need to be a migrant to feel and understand them, it’s enough to be a human being.”
She is also involved with integration, and she especially loves to see new lives begin as migrant and refugee families take root in Albania. “The most beautiful moments for me have been when assisting pregnant women in their routine health checks, meeting with doctors, going to the hospital and witnessing the newborns coming into their families,” she smiles.
Work became difficult during the first lockdown in March last year. “it was challenging to as we were not allowed to move. We communicated with our clients through the phone and internet trying to offer information and guidance.
“Although the number of the refugees decreased during the COVID time, the health needs and the risk was much higher. They had no idea how to protect themselves, no masks, no protection at all. It was really hard,” says Ghalia.
This is something that has been addressed by IOM, who provide medical advice, medication and health supplies to 217 refugees and asylum-seekers in Tirana from April 2020 to December 2021.