This interview is part of a series looking at the human face of the global refugee crisis. The interview with Farah was stopped abruptly for security reasons: explosions and gunshots were heard near the area.
I was born in Mogadishu, Somalia in 1976. Nowadays, Mogadishu is associated in people’s minds with war and chaos, but at that time, and during my early years, despite its problems, Mogadishu was a functioning city. It really fell apart during the civil war in the 1990s, and the situation has never properly recovered since then.
I grew up and married my husband, a construction worker. We lived in Mogadishu and had seven children. On a day to day basis, life gradually became quite peaceful until in late 2007, Ethiopia invaded Somalia to oust the Union of Islamic Courts who were running the country, with support from western states. The ensuing chaos was terrifying. We were caught between Ethiopian troops and Somali militias, everyone fighting each other, and each with their own agenda. We paid someone $50 per person to take us by car from Mogadishu. For our entire family, this was an eye-watering amount of money. The journey took around five days, and we eventually arrived at the Ifo refugee camp in Northern Kenya. Ifo is one of a set of connected camps around Dadaab, in northern Kenya. Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the entire world, with only Somalis as residents. In the Dadaab, you will meet people from all levels of Somali society. Some families have been there so long there are now three generations there.
Dadaab is very overcrowded, and along with the deprivation the residents suffer, this means there are many social problems. For us, it became impossible to stay in the Dadaab with our young daughters because increasing numbers of rapes and other sexual assaults were occurring. The attacks were almost all against women and children, and were particularly common during times of wood and water collection.
We decided to leave the camp to look for a better, safer option for our family, and made our way to Nairobi where we were able to start building the stable life we had dreamt of. Our children even started going to school.
However, in May 2014, everything changed abruptly, when one day Kenyan Admin Police Force officers arrived at our door and forced their way into our house. First they asked for money, and I gave them whatever I had. I told them we have refugee cards, but they weren’t interested. They took the whole family to Pangani police station where I and the children were detained together in a tiny room. My husband was held elsewhere, with other men. There was nothing in this room at all, no bedding, food or water, no access to a lawyer or any family members. We were treated like animals.
During our detention it became clear that we were not the only Somali refugees who had been arrested. There were many, many others.
Eventually, some of my relatives in Nairobi managed to pay 35,000 Kenyan Shillings per person as a ransom to the police. There were ten family members in total – me, my husband, our children and another relative. After two days the police released us, but they told us that we should immediately leave Kenya because otherwise we would be arrested again. We felt we had no choice and so we quickly raised money for plane tickets to Somalia through selling furniture, some of our children’s clothes and in the end some kind donations from neighbours.
Of course, we did not want to go back to Somalia. It’s such a dangerous place, and none of the problems we fled from in the first place have been solved since. We left behind two daughters and some of my nieces, who I had been raising, with relatives in Nairobi.
When we first arrived back in Somalia we went to live with some of my brothers in a camp called Waberi, which is for “Internally Displaced Persons” (IDPs). IDPs are people who have been forced to flee their home but are not in a foreign country, therefore don’t even get the protections that refugees are supposed to have. There are many such people in Somalia who have been forced to move because of problems in their area. It’s an extremely vulnerable situation to be in because in Somalia, survival essentially relies on having clan and family connections. In the IDP camp, life was really hard. The children had no school to attend and we didn’t have enough food or water.
After a while in the camp, we managed to get out, and moved to live with my parents-in-law in the Wadajir area of Mogadishu. Our entire family lives in a one bedroom house, which does not even belong to us. We are squatters in an empty house that was abandoned by a family who fled the violence. We are not local and so it’s been difficult to gain the acceptance of the local community. There is almost no sanitation here and finding enough food is difficult. Most days we only eat one meal. My children have no access to education, and I’m terrified both of al-Shabaab, and the local authorities. None of the adults can find a job – first of all, there are hardly any, and secondly, we are not local and so people don’t want to hire us. My son did get a job in a hotel, but after two months he had to quit because al-Shabaab called him and threatened that if he did not leave his job, they would kill him.
Our future here feels very dark.
The interview with Farah was stopped here. Explosions and gunshots were heard near the area.
This interview is part of our report into human rights violations against Somali refugees and asylum seekers in the Republic of Kenya during Operation Usalama Watch.