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Twitter reunites ex-refugee with kind stranger who gifted her a bike | The Cube

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How Twitter helped reunite a former refugee with her childhood hero
How Twitter helped reunite a former refugee with her childhood hero -
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As a five-year-old, Mevan Babakar found herself living in a refugee camp in Zwolle, the Netherlands, and vividly recalls being gifted a bike by a camp worker.

Nearly a quarter of a century later, she took to Twitter to find him.

Babakar's Kurdish family fled Iraq in the 1990s, making their way through Azerbaijan, Turkey, Russia, and onto a refugee camp in Zwolle.

It's the striking memories of her time in Zwolle that have stayed with Babakar.

"My overriding memories were not of the camp itself, but of the kindness that I was shown in the camp,” she said.

She recalls the lady who taught her how to use a computer for the first time, rallying other children to help clean up the cafeteria in exchange for extra ice cream, and being given a bike by a kindly camp worker.

"[The bike] was the most wonderful thing I had ever received in my life up until that point, it made me feel incredibly special and valued in a way I hadn’t done before, that feeling was one that I have carried with me for the rest of my life,” she said.

Babakar, now 29, works as head of technology at London-based fact-checking organisation Full Fact.

Her decision to trace her family’s journey was borne out of frustration at the daily bombardment of negative news items on the enduring refugee crisis.

Having long been focused on university, building a career, saving for a home, she felt it was finally time to retrace her family’s migration route.

Babakar's request for a sabbatical was approved, and in July she flew to Iraq, her mind filled with memories of the daily upheaval of her early life.

Six weeks later, Babakar arrived in Zwolle. Eager to find out more about the camp itself, she approached the civic hall, librarians, and local historians, but to no avail. In a last-ditch attempt, she took to Twitter, sharing a grainy photo of the "bicycle gifter" provided by her mother.

The local community rallied, and within an hour Babakar was speaking on a local radio station. Hundreds of retweets later, Babakar had changed her return flight to London and was working with a local journalist to trace the camp worker’s relatives. The internet gods provided.

"I just asked to know his name... within 24 hours not only had we found him, but I was knocking on his front door," she said.

"Meeting Egbert was like meeting an old family member," she told Euronews. "Catching up on the last two decades, Egbert spoke of his pride at seeing how I had become ‘a strong and brave woman’.

Babakar was introduced to his family, his orchids, and they shared a phone call with Babakar's mother who expressed her gratitude.

Although Egbert thought the bike was too small a gesture to make such a big fuss, he said he was delighted it was the key to bringing them together again.

Babakar’s journey has been keenly followed by Twitter users globally.

"What I took away from all of this is how just one act of kindness can not only resonate with me and my life but also with those around the world," she said. "An act of kindness can transcend in a way that other things cannot.

“Refugees want to go about living their lives, they’ve been through an extremely traumatic experience. Top of the agenda is getting your life back on track, getting a job, going to university, growing your family, these are the things that are most important”.

‘’For all of the negative refugee stories out there, I guarantee there are millions of positive ones too."

A common theme amongst the Twitter response is a feeling of powerlessness in the wake of big abstract problems be it climate change, or the refugee crisis. “This media coverage makes them feel they can’t really do anything about it."

Reflecting on what she’ll take away from her 36-hour whirlwind journey, she added: "A really important part of this story is how one small, generous act between two people can be just as powerful as a change in policy.

“You are powerful when it comes to the way that you treat others. And sometimes that is the thing that actually lasts even longer”.