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Human Rights

Getting chosen to come to America was her dream come true. Then Trump won.



Istarlin Abdi Halane was thrilled when she found out she’d been chosen to resettle in the United States.

“Maybe after all, my dream is really valid and it’s going to come true,” she thought.

The dream had been a long time coming. Abdi Halane, 28, fled war in her native Somalia as a child. She’d spent most of her life in Kakuma, a refugee camp in Kenya: marrying at 15, a mother of two by 20, divorced by 25. All that time, waiting to find out where she’d be able to build her life.

Finally, last year, she got an answer.

“I was so happy when I got the letter,” she said in an interview in mid-May. “I had many friends from America. I saw they’re really nice people. If I’m going to America, then it’s the best thing.”

Still, the US presidential election that was going on at the time made her nervous. She was troubled by what Republican candidate Donald Trump had to say about immigrants — refugees and Muslims in particular. He kicked off his campaign declaring Mexican immigrants “rapists” and “criminals”; he later called for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”

Abdi Halane thought, “If he can think like this now in an election, what will happen if he becomes a president?”

She soon found out: During his first weeks in office, President Trump issued his “travel ban” executive order. It affected her doubly: As a Somali, the order barred her from entering the US for 90 days; as a refugee, it blocked her for 120 days.

“Maybe I’m the unluckiest person in this world,” she thought on the day she saw the news.

She didn’t sleep at all that night.

Trump’s ban has been challenged in court successfully; the order is not currently in effect. Since Trump became president, thousands of refugees have been resettled in the US. However, Abdi Halane’s case remains in limbo as she waits to renew her medical certification. All she can do is check her status online.

The anti-refugee rhetoric has taken its toll, on Abdi Halane and others like her.

“People don’t know how personally people are taking this,” said Melanie Nezer, head of public affairs at the immigrant-aid group HIAS. “All they want is to seek safety. Being painted as a danger or a threat — they take it very personally.”

And Abdi Halane is taking this personally.

“The only dream that I had, Trump shuttered it,” she said.

America might be a different place than she thought.

Here, in her own words, she describes the pain of realizing she is a refugee; the joy she felt at learning she was chosen to come to the United States; and the uncertainty faces now that Trump is president.

The images are a typical morning in Abdi Halane’s household, waking up at sunrise, making breakfast, and walking her daughters to school.

When she first realized she was a refugee

I was 13 when I realized I was a refugee. I was going to a boarding school that was a 25-minute walk from the refugee camp. Other kids would say, “You’re just a refugee; just go back where you came from. This is not your land. This is our land.”

That’s when it hit me: “Oh, so I’m a refugee.”

I would sit down and cry and cry. My English teacher was my favorite teacher. She would come and talk to me.

“You know what? Being a refugee is okay. It’s just a status — it can change any time,” she told me. “Maybe you will go back to your country; maybe you will go to another country. Your status will change.”

After that, I became bright, and whenever the other kids would tease me, I’d say, “It’s just a status, so don’t worry — I will get my education and it will change.”

A decade and a half later, it looked like her status was finally about to change

It had been years since my interviews with the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees. I’d stopped checking my status — I didn’t want to keep on coming back every evening heartbroken. But one day a friend said to me, “There are a lot of submission letters from the US, and I’ve seen your name. Everyone else picked up theirs a long time ago. What happened? It’s like you don’t want to leave the camp.”

I went home in the evening and I showed my daughters the letter.

My older daughter, Naima, said, “We’ll be Americans when we go there. We’re going to have our documents there. I’ll be Naima. I’ll be a Somali American. You know what, Mum? I will no longer be a refugee.”

Abdi Halane watched the 2016 election closely — and assumed Hillary Clinton would win

I was following the election on the internet.

I was 100 percent sure Clinton will win. I was really happy because I really love women leaders. It motivates and gives you courage — like if she made it, you can make it too.

I never liked the way Mr. Trump was talking.

He said he will always put America first, and one of the first things that he will do is he will deport any illegal immigrants that are in his country and no immigrants will be coming to America. That’s what hit me so hard — that and the wall that he said he’s going to build in Mexico.

I said, “If he can think like this now in an election, what will happen if he becomes a president?”

When she found out Trump had won, she worried that she wouldn’t be able to resettle in America after all

The day they announced the results of the election, I was at a conference on girls and education in a nearby town called Lokichogio, on the border between Kenya and Sudan.

I was in the conference hall of the hotel where we were staying, but my mind was on the counting of the votes that was going on halfway around the world. I kept leaving the conference hall to check the hotel television. Each time I saw Trump ahead of Hillary, I got sick to my stomach.

But I didn’t believe he would win until he came out and said, “I won,” and Clinton accepted that. That’s when it hit me. I went to my room and cried so hard.

I was crying because this guy, he never liked refugees. Because I knew once he is the president, I would never go to the United States. I thought, “The only dream that I had, Trump shattered it.” The moment he was chosen, that was the end of me. I was like, “I don’t think I’ll ever go there.”

Then I was crying because my children didn’t know about this election and these political things. They were excited that anytime soon, we would be resettled in America. So what am I going to tell them?

The next day I went home, and I kept quiet at first. I was like, “Let me first be okay; then I can talk to them.”

I said, “Naima and Malyum, do you know what? The new president that the American people have chosen, he is a guy who doesn’t like refugees. I don’t know how our case will be processed. I don’t know if we’re going or not.”

How Trump’s win changed her view of America

I wondered, “What happened to the American people?” Because most of them that I meet, they’re nice people, they’re so friendly. And it’s America that makes the largest donations to the UNHCR. They’re the main people who provide food, everything for the refugees. I wondered how they could choose such a person.

So I asked an American friend of mine: “What is going on with your people?”

She said, “It’s a question many of us have been asking,” and she tried to explain to me: “People got tired of the Democrats. They wanted a change — it’s not Trump they voted for; they voted because of the parties.”

That made sense to me.

When Trump announced his refugee ban in late January, her fears were realized

I found out about the ban from reading the online news on my phone. At the same time, my friends from America were texting and calling. They knew I was almost there; they were waiting for me. They kept on calling: “Istarlin, Istarlin, I’m sorry.”

I thought, “Maybe I’m the unluckiest person in this world. Every time my things work out, something will happen.”

I just felt bad the whole night. I couldn’t sleep.

The next day, I had more messages from my friends in America. They said, “Istarlin, don’t worry! We’re going to fight this ban. We as American people, we own the country. It’s not his country; it’s our country. We will fight this ban, and nobody is on his side.”

I was like, “It’s okay. If I’m meant one day to come to America, then I will come. If it’s not, it’s not.”

Her daughters ask when things are going to change — and she doesn’t have an answer

If it were just me, I would try to forget. But the kids keep on reminding me, “Mum, when are things going to change?”

Sometimes you don’t have an answer. You pretend you never heard that question; you try to dodge the subject and talk about something else. But the girls are too smart for that. They keep on asking.

“I just asked you a question, what’s up with our case, is there anything new, are we really going?”

The elder one says sometimes, “You know what, Mum, I think I should stop thinking about this.”

Then I tell her, “Yes, that’s for the better.”

But the smaller one doesn’t understand that. She keeps on asking me, “Mum, when are we going, are we ever going? Or maybe we’re going to stay in Kakuma forever. I don’t like Kakuma. Kakuma is not a nice place to be.”

I tell her, “In life, you have to be patient.”

She says, “Okay, Mum, I’m a big girl. I’ll be patient.”

I say, “Okay, that’s good for me.”

Human Rights

Somaliland poet jailed for three years in crackdown on writers



A poet has been sentenced to three years in prison in Somaliland as part of a wide-ranging crackdown against activists and writers.

Naima Abwaan Qorane, 27, was jailed on Sunday for “anti-national activity of a citizen and bringing the nation or state in contempt”.

Prosecutors said she had expressed opinions on social media that undermined the semi-autonomous state’s claim to full independence.

In a second case on Monday, the same court sentenced Mohamed Kayse Mohamoud, a 31-year-old author, to 18 months in prison on charges of “offending the honour of the president.”

The case against Mohamoud was based on a Facebook post saying the “president is a local”, according to the charge sheet seen by activists.

It was offensive to the president because the president was “a national president” and not a local official, the presiding judge said.

Somaliland, a former British protectorate, declared unilateral independence from Somalia in 1991 as the regime of Mohamed Siad Barre collapsed, but has not been recognised as a fully autonomous state by the international community.

It is effectively self-governing with its own elections, constitution, courts and currency. President Muse Bihi Abdi was elected last year.

Since December there has been a series of arrests and detentions of activists, bloggers and writers. Local human rights workers say at least 12 journalists have been detained, some for up to three weeks.

“The detention of my client was illegal, the charges made against her are politically motivated and the sentence is unfair,” Qorane’s lawyer, Mubarik Abdi Ismail, said. “The the judge was not independent and therefore he could not deliver a free trial.”

He said the poet had been threatened during her interrogation. “On one night while Naima Qorane was in [police] detention in Hargeisa, two hooded men entered her cell and threatened that they will rape her if she would not provide passwords of her mobile phone and her social media pages particularly her Facebook. They took all passwords,” he said.

“In March, two [police] and intelligence officers came to Qorane’s cell and demanded her to tell everything and confess her crimes … they threatened that they will bring very strong men who would rape her, and then that they would kill her and dump her body into unknown place. They returned the second night and put a loaded pistol of her forehead and threatened that was her last minute in life.”

Qorane was also denied visits from her family for a number of weeks after her father spoke to the media and, though held for political offences, she was not separated from other detainees. She is now being held in Gabiley women’s prison.

Ahmed Hussein Qorane, Naima’s father, said he was given only limited access to visit his daughter and was not surprised by the sentence. “My daughter is innocent … She has nothing to do with what they alleged. She must be released without condition. They did not allow her to see a doctor. She has bad toothache. They beat her in the detention and her left knee is swollen while she has an injury on her thumb,” he said.

Much of Qorane’s poetry evokes the lost unity of Somalia, but does not explicitly mention Somaliland or its future, supporters say. She read her works at a TEDx conference in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, last year.

Guleid Ahmed Jama, the chair of the Human Rights Centre-Hargeisa Somaliland, said the imprisonment of Qorane and Mahamoud were contrary to the constitution.

“This shows that the judiciary is being used to suppress critical voices. We are very concerned about the judiciary’s acts that are putting people behind bars for expressing their opinion. Somaliland is a democracy. We have a very good constitution. The government needs to respect that constitution,” he said.

Qorane said in 2016 that she had received death threats and been warned to leave Somaliland. “If it happens – though I am not expecting it – jail was built for people not for animals … I will be released one day and the prison experience is not going to change my views,” she said in a local media interview.

There has been no official statement from the Somaliland authorities.

Said Abdi Hassan, an activist in Somaliland, said Qorane’s sentence was unfair. “She was detained because of her views which everybody has the right to express without fear,” he said. “How can a country claim to be seeking recognition while they disregard rights of the people.

“But we want to tell Naima that even if she is jailed forever, her views will be active. She is a role model for many of our youth by calling for unity and against tribalism.”

Officials contacted in Somaliland said they were unable to comment on the case.

Additional reporting by Abdalle Ahmed Mumin

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Human Rights

Somaliland: Female poet jailed over unity calls



MIDDLE EAST MONITOR — A court in Somaliland has sentenced a female poet to three-years in jail after she called for unity with Somalia amid ongoing regional tensions, Garowe Online reported yesterday.

Naciima Abwaan Qorane was arrested in January at Igal International Airport upon her return from Somalia’s capital Mogadishu where prosecutors claimed she had recited poetry calling for unity.

Qorane was charged by police in Somaliland with “anti-national activity and violating the sovereignty and succession of Somaliland”. Somaliland’s prosecution claimed that Qorane called Somaliland a “region” and “insulted and defamed” the government.

Read: Somalia’s quandary with UAE: A port in Somaliland

“We are very concerned about the conviction and sentence of Naima. Freedom of expression is enshrined and protected by the Constitution of Somaliland,” Guled Ahmed Jama, the director of Human Rights Centre, said.

Regional tension
A breakaway, semi-desert territory on the coast of the Gulf of Aden, Somaliland declared independence from Somalia in 1991.

In a recent struggle for power between the two states, Somalia rejected a $422 million tripartite port agreement between Ethiopia, Somaliland and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) logistics port company DP World as “null and void”.

Tensions escalated when the UAE went ahead with the port deal despite strong opposition. Somalia’s members of parliament voted for a law to officially ban DP World last month.

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Human Rights

Refugees in Indonesia selling sex to survive



AAP — Homeless mother-of-three, Nimo, fled to Indonesia from Somalia after Islamists killed her family, but with prostitution as the only way to survive, she tearily says her life in Jakarta is “much harder” than her war-torn homeland.

Indonesia has traditionally been a transit nation for asylum seekers but in recent months the UNHCR has been meeting with refugees to tell them they’ll probably never be resettled somewhere else.

That means people such as Nimo face the prospect of spending much longer in the country than they first anticipated. And, for many women, it means working as they’d never imagined – in the sex trade.

Melbourne-based Human Rights Law Centre spokesman Daniel Webb says the suffering of refugees on our Australia’s doorstep exposes the cruelty of the government’s obsession with so-called deterrence.

“The people our government secretly turns back or frightens away don’t just vanish off the face of the earth – they’re being forced to suffer elsewhere,” he tells AAP.

Nimo, a 32-year-old Somalian refugee, was forced into hiding after the local refugee community discovered she was working as a prostitute.

Some in the conservative Muslim neighbourhood threatened her harm for betraying Islam’s teachings.

The homeless mother says she’s ashamed of the work and is often beaten by men.

“I would like to stop but I have no options,” Nimo tells AAP.

“If I don’t there will be no food for my family.”

Nimo has fallen through the aid safety net.

Some two-thirds of the 13,800 asylum seekers and refugees in Indonesia are dependent on aid or live in government-run immigration detention centres, according to the UN Refugee Agency.

They’re not allowed to work or access social security.

Many sleep in the streets near Jakarta’s already-full immigration detention centre or queue – day after day – at the UNHCR office seeking help.

Others drift from one boarding house to the next begging for food. Some sleep on the steps of a local mosque.

“I could never have imagined this life before,” Nimo says. “There is no hope. I have children and I am a prostitute. This is a really bad life. It’s much harder than Somalia.”

Nimo fled Somalia with her children after Islamists stoned her younger sister to death and then turned their guns on the rest of her family. She was shot during one attack.

Her 10-day journey through Dubai and Kuala Lumpur, and across the Malacca Strait, ended after a two-day bus ride to the Indonesian capital in 2015.

Her appeals for help from NGOs and the UNHCR have been refused.

During a recent interview – to discuss her sex work – no assistance was offered. Instead, she was lectured about breaking local laws, and the health risks of prostitution.

UNHCR Indonesia representative Thomas Vargas says recent humanitarian emergencies – such the Rohingya crisis in Bangladesh – mean money earmarked for Indonesia is being redirected.

“When there are those types of flashpoints, that’s where the limited funding the UNHCR has globally goes,” he tells AAP.

For refugees in Indonesia, aid is now even harder to come by.

“You have limited funding and you have to help the neediest. That’s the harsh reality. It’s a very tough situation,” Vargas says.

At night refugee women living on the street risk sexual violence.

Refugee Suad, 27, lives in a tight network of laneways near Jakarta’s central shopping district.

The Somalian says men regularly try to force refugee women to go with them for sex.

“When we sleep on the street, West African businessman come to this area. They threaten us and touch us and we are powerless to stop them,” she tells AAP.

“If you don’t say yes they say they can beat you. But I say no, I’m a Muslim, I can’t do it. I am hungry and I want money, but I can’t do that.”

Fear of being labelled a prostitute or shunned causes many women to hide their abuse.

Suad’s family was killed by a bomb in Mogadishu. She says she was abducted, raped and held captive by militants.

After she escaped a local mosque raised the money needed to pay people smugglers.

Suad says in Somalia rape victims are often accused of being prostitutes and are sent away so as not to shame their family or community.

But now, out of desperation, she’s now considering going with men.

“When you don’t have food, when you don’t have shelter, life becomes very hard and that is the only option,” she says.

Mr Vargas says “survival sex” is common among refugees who don’t receive aid or have family to protect them.

“When you are not able to make a living you resort, unfortunately, to these types of survival techniques and that’s a risk refugees have here,” he admits.

Asylum seekers and refugees across the archipelago are protesting their treatment.

But the fact is the UNHCR deals with 65.6 million refugees and forcibly displaced people globally.

The crisis is unlike any seen since World War II, according to Mr Vargas. It’s stretched aid budgets and led to tougher immigration policies in key resettlement nations.

US President Donald Trump’s executive order on immigration and Australia’s policy of refusing refugees from Indonesia if they arrived after mid-2014 are clear examples, he says.

It’s created “unpredictability in the (resettlement) system” and left refugees stranded.

Immigration policies based on deterrence and criminalisation – rather than protection and human rights – came under the spotlight at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva in March.

UN special rapporteur Nils Melzer says government policies – rather than criminal activity, corruption and dangerous travel – are the major cause of abuses inflicted on refugees.

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