Former child refugee reunited with camp worker who gifted her a bike

By Emily Chudy, PA

A former child refugee tracked down a man who bought her a bike when she was five-years-old, after she launched a Twitter campaign to find him.

Mevan Babakar, 29, said she had lived in a refugee camp near Zwolle in the Netherlands during the 1990s, and a man who worked there had given her the bike in a touching act of kindness.

The man, she identified only as Egbert, was found by an old colleague of his after the Twitter plea by Ms Babakar achieved over 8,000 retweets.

She said: “This is a long shot BUT I was a refugee for five years in the ’90s and this man, who worked at a refugee camp near Zwolle in the Netherlands, out of the kindness of his own heart bought me a bike.

“My five-year-old heart exploded with joy. I just want to know his name.”

After finding Egbert, who now lives in Germany, Ms Babakar travelled from Zwolle to meet him and brought flowers and a card.

She told the PA news agency: “I hadn’t really had a chance to speak to him beforehand, the first time we spoke was when I knocked on his door and said hello.

“It was like seeing a relative that you hadn’t seen in a long time, you talk about everything and nothing at once.

“You talk about how much you’ve grown and how you’re doing … it was just really wonderful to see how things have changed but also see how things are really the same.

“He is still an incredibly kind and generous man and he still clearly touches the lives of so many people.

“It was a privilege to see him again and say thank you.”

Mevan Babakar as a child (Mevan Babakar/PA)

Ms Babakar and her parents fled Iraq during the first Gulf War, spending a year at the camp near Zwolle between 1994 and 1995.

The family settled in London, where Ms Babakar still lives and works leading the tech team at UK fact-checking organisation Full Fact.

She had travelled to Zwolle to research her past and retrace her refugee journey, when she wrote the tweet looking for Egbert.

Ms Babakar said: “I decided to, as a last-ditch attempt, tweet out about it … within an hour or two I was contacted by a local media outlet.

“It (the tweet) got retweets from Nigella Lawson and Caitlin Moran … just crazy amounts of traffic.”

Ms Babakar explained in a tweet that Egbert thought the bike was too small a gesture to “make such a big fuss about”, but that he was glad it brought them back together again.

She explained that other people who had known Egbert and his wife reached out through social media, sharing that they had helped them too.

Ms Babakar said that she and Egbert had exchanged contact details and were planning on keeping in touch.

“I think that the story has resonated with a lot of people for different reasons,” she said.

“For some it’s a very relatable story … some who were also refugees and they understand that a small act of kindness can go a long way to making you feel like a human again.

“For others, I think that they want to believe that the internet can be a really great place.

“The thing I’ve been trying to get across most is that actually even when things are dark and quite bleak, a small act of kindness can go a long way.”