This interview is part of a series looking at the human face of the global refugee crisis. Naeema was interviewed by one of our researchers for our report Dignity Denied: Somali Refugees Expelled from Kenya in 2014.
I was born in Mogadishu in 1992. The civil war broke out there around 1990/1991, so I have no memories before that time. Until I was 17, my parents and I lived with many other Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in Mogadishu. As IDPs, we didn’t even have the limited amounts of protection that we later received as refugees. Life was really hard, and made even more difficult after the Ethiopian invasion of Somalia at the end of 2007. This was the time that al-Shabaab started to emerge and the country was engulfed in killings, rapes and other kinds of violence between the Ethiopian troops and the various Somali militias that were battling for control.
So in 2009, my parents decided to take the whole family and flee to Kenya, by car. We wanted to find a place of safety, and after one week of travelling, we reached the Ifo refugee camp. Ifo was not perfect – it is really overcrowded, part of the largest complex of refugee camps in the world, with all the problems that you can imagine would come with that. But it was still better than where we had come from. We settled in Ifo.
At Ifo, I started to suffer from mental health and other health problems. I can’t say why this has happened, but I have experienced so much trauma in my life that it’s hard to imagine ever feeling safe and relaxed. I was given a medical referral letter by a UNHCR doctor at Ifo, for Kenyatta Hospital in Nairobi. The idea was that I would go down there for some tests so the doctors could work out what was wrong with me, and perhaps prescribe some treatment.
I travelled alone to Kenyatta Hospital in the spring of 2014. One day I was there awaiting some blood checks when Kenyan police officers entered the hospital in search of Somalis. They asked me for money, but I had none. I tried to show them my UNHCR refugee card, and the medical referral letter, but they were not interested. They arrested me and took me to police station where I was detained with 12 other Somali women in a tiny room. There was nothing there so we had to sit on the dirty ground, shoulder to shoulder, with no food or water at all. I was held there for two nights.
After two nights, we were all transferred to a massive football stadium in Nairobi, called Kasarani. It was like an open field, absolutely full of Somali people. There was no food or water or medical care. It felt like we were being treated like animals. It seemed as though only those who had the money to pay bribes had a chance of release. Eventually, I was released from the stadium, however I was transferred straight to the airport to wait for a flight back to Somalia. It was a terrifying time. After four days of waiting, I arrived in Mogadishu. I was completely alone – separated from my family who were still at Ifo, and in a country I had fled at the age of seventeen.
At first I lived with distant relatives, on a temporary basis. Now, I live in a rented flat in Mogadishu with my sister and daughter. Life is difficult. I haven’t been able to find a job as I have no local connections. And we have been displaced by local militias more than five times since arriving in Mogadishu. We’ve therefore had to move regularly around the city, trying to find somewhere safe to be. I’ve had difficulty accessing medical treatment, and when I lived in the area of the city called Medina, I was attacked and harassed by local government forces who kept asking me why I was new to the neighbourhood. In 2015, when I married a local government official, I received threatening phone calls from people who said they were members of al-Shabaab. Eventually I asked my husband for a divorce, after which time the threats stopped.
Although life is so hard here, I don’t want to return to Kenya because of the way I was treated there.
This interview formed part of our report into human rights violations against Somali refugees and asylum seekers in the Republic of Kenya during Operation Usalama Watch.
Image by Zoriah