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 grew up in Mogadishu. My parents divorced when I was small and my father left, so I was raised by my mother and two sisters. We had a small food store in Mogadishu.
In 2008, when I was 13 years old, we fled Mogadishu to escape from the fighting between Ethiopian troops and local militias. My mother arranged for our travel to Kenya along with two other families. I remember we had to hide from border guards and sometimes pay bribes. After 15 days, we reached Nairobi.
From Nairobi, we travelled to the Kakuma Refugee Camp in the Turkana region of northwestern Kenya, and registered as refugees. We stayed at Kakuma until 2012, when we moved to Nairobi. My mother had developed health problems in the camp and we needed a new environment. On the bus journey to Nairobi, the Kenyan police stopped us in the Naivasha area. We were all arrested, along with some other families who had also come from Kakuma. We were detained for eight days until a visit from a UN official. At that point, we were “fined” 20,000 Kenyan Shillings and then released to continue the trip to Nairobi.
We settled in the Eastleigh area of Nairobi. In Nairobi, life was so much better than in the camp. We received some financial support from relatives abroad, and I was able to attend school. All was going well until one night in May 2014, Kenyan soldiers wearing their distinctive red hats stormed our family home. They asked no questions and refused to look at our refugee documents. They just threw us into the back of an army truck, which took us to the Kasarani football stadium. The stadium was packed with Somali families but no sanitation, water or food. It was a very cold night and I was scared out of my wits.
After two days of detention at the Kasarani stadium, some of our relatives managed to pay a bribe of 15,000 Kenyan Shillings each for the release of me, my mother and my two sisters. We were told that the release was conditional upon us leaving Kenya as soon as possible. We went to the Somali Embassy in Nairobi to get travel documents, and a few days later we took a flight to Mogadishu.
When we first got back, we stayed with distant relatives in Mogadishu. We were struggling financially, as none of us could find work. I was also living in constant fear of being arrested by government forces, or attacked by al-Shabaab. Not long after we returned to Mogadishu, my mother passed away. There are now eight of us in the household in total, and we live in a slum in the Wadijir district of Mogadishu. The conditions are awful, with scarce food and no sanitation. The area is run by gangs who take rent from the slum occupants, most of whom are from minority clans and are Internally Displaced Persons. We have no income at all and no hope of getting one.
I feel really vulnerable, and I’ve been detained three times in the past year by government security forces. One time, in October 2015, agents from the Somali National Intelligence Agency (NISA), stormed our house at around 3am. I was handcuffed and blindfolded, then tossed into a truck along with some other youths from the neighbourhood. We were taken to a football field near the airport where we were kept, blindfolded, until the morning.
I live in constant fear from the government, al-Shabaab, and members of the gang who control our neighbourhood.
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.
Image by Zoriah