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.”
Not enough being done to shield civilians from violence in Somalia – UN report
The armed conflict in Somalia continues to exact a heavy toll on civilians, damaging infrastructure and livelihoods, displacing millions of people, and impeding access to humanitarian relief for communities in need, according to a United Nations report launched today in the country’s capital, Mogadishu.
“Ultimately, civilians are paying the price for failure to resolve Somalia’s conflicts through political means,” said the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Somalia, Michael Keating. “And parties to the conflict are simply not doing enough to shield civilians from the violence. This is shameful.”
The report – “Protection of Civilians: Building the Foundation for Peace, Security and Human Rights in Somalia” – covers the period from 1 January 2016 to 14 October 2017, and was produced by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), which Mr. Keating also heads.
During this reporting period, UNSOM documented a total of 2,078 civilian deaths and 2,507 injuries, with 60 per cent of the casualties attributed to Al Shabaab militants, 13 per cent to clan militias, 11 per cent to State actors, including the army and the police, four per cent to the African Union Mission to Somalia (AMISOM), and 12 per cent to unidentified or undetermined attackers.
Civilians were the victims of unlawful attacks – by being directly targeted and through the use of indiscriminate bomb and suicide attacks – by non-State groups. Such attacks, which are prohibited under international human rights and humanitarian laws, are, in most cases, likely to constitute war crimes, and it is imperative that perpetrators are identified and held accountable, the report notes.
The worst incident on a single day was the twin bomb blasts in Mogadishu on 14 October, attributed to Al-Shabaab by Somali government officials and in which at least 512 people are officially recorded to have died as of 1 December, along with 316 injured. The attack received widespread condemnation, including from UNSOM and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres.
“This barbaric act was the deadliest attack with an improved explosive device in Somalia’s history and surely one of the worst ever on the continent, if not the world,” said Special Representative Keating at the report’s launch. “Sadly, its impact will be felt for a long time.”
A significant number of recorded civilian casualties – 251 killed and 343 injured – was attributed to clan militias, in areas where federal or state security forces are largely absent. “The drought has intensified clan conflict due to competition over resources. These conflicts are exploited by anti-government elements to further destabilize areas, diminish prospects for lasting peace and weaken civilian protection,” the report states.
Casualties attributed to State actors and AMISOM
It goes on to note that the number of casualties attributed to the Somali National Army and Police, as well as to AMISOM, was significantly smaller than those attributed to Al Shabaab militants.
“Nevertheless, such casualties are of utmost concern as they undermine the Somali population’s trust in the Government and the international community, which in turn expands the space in which anti-government elements continue to operate,” said the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein.
“While achieving the balance between human rights and security is challenging,” he added, “the respect of human rights and the protection of civilians are essential as the foundation of a strong, legitimate State that works for the benefit of all its people.”
Somalia’s National Intelligence and Security Agency routinely disregards international human rights law when carrying out arrests and detentions, according to the report, which adds that journalists and people suspected of belonging to Al Shabaab are often detained without charge.
The report also flags that information on the conditions of people living under Al Shabaab control is scant. Verifying human rights violations and abuses in those areas remains problematic due to the lack of access and fear of reprisals.
Somalia has been plagued by armed violence for decades, as well as poverty, marginalization, natural hazards, insecurity and political instability.
UNSOM is working with the East African country’s authorities to support national reconciliation, provide strategic and policy advice on various aspects of peacebuilding and state-building, monitor and report on the human rights situation, and help coordinate the efforts of the international community.
Sadistic people smuggler who raped and murdered migrants in Libyan desert sentenced to life in prison
Telegraph — An Italian court has sentenced to life imprisonment a sadistic people smuggler who raped, tortured and murdered migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa.
Osman Matammud, 22, from Somalia, was found guilty of multiple counts of murder, abduction for ransom and sexual violence against young women and girls.
Matammud was arrested a year ago after being recognised by fellow Somalis in a migrant reception centre in Milan.
He was almost lynched before police stepped in and arrested him.
He had crossed the Mediterranean in a boat full of migrants and had tried to pass himself off as an asylum-seeker.
He was accused of the horrific abuse of migrants at a squalid detention camp at Bani Walid in the Libyan desert, 100 miles south-east of Tripoli, with prosecutors comparing him to a Nazi concentration camp guard.
During his trial in Milan, 17 witnesses told the court how they had been raped, beaten or tortured by Matammud. He will spend the first three years of his incarceration in solitary confinement.
He was sentenced after a five-hour deliberation by the Court of Assizes in Milan.
He had denied all the charges and his lawyer said he would appeal the verdict. His trial revealed the squalid conditions and violent abuse endured by migrants as they try to cross the Sahara on their way to the coast of Libya, from where they pay smugglers to send them in boats towards Italy.
“I’m not Somali, I’m not Muslim – I’m your boss,” he allegedly told migrants and refugees when they arrived at the camp.
Several Somali women told investigators in Italy that they had been repeatedly raped by Matammud, who is from Mogadishu. The violence was in part to exert pressure on their families to pay more money for their passage across the Mediterranean.
Matammud would allegedly place plastic bags on the backs of migrants and set them alight so that molten plastic blistered their skin.
One teenage girl told Milan prosecutors: “The first night, he came into the hangar, he grabbed me and he ripped off my clothes in front of everyone. He penetrated me. I fainted but when I came to, there was blood everywhere. I was raped many times by him – every night.”
“In a career spanning 40 years, I’ve never come across such horrors. And what is going on in Bani Walid is going on in all the transit camps,” said chief prosecutor Ilda Boccassini, who has spent much of her career fighting the Mafia.
European Commission seeks to resettle 50,000 refugees
The European Commission has unveiled a new plan that would allow for 50,000 refugees – mostly from a host of African countries – to be resettled to Europe over the next two years.
The proposal on Wednesday by the European Union’s executive branch involves admitting asylum seekers under the bloc’s resettlement programme, which was introduced at the height of a major refugee crisis in 2015.
“We need to open real alternatives to taking perilous irregular journeys,” European Union Migration Commissioner Dimitris Avramopoulos told a news conference in Brussels.
The commission said that it had set aside 500 million euros ($590m) to support the resettlement effort. Member states will be free to participate in the scheme on a voluntary basis.
The EU’s executive arm said that while resettlement from Turkey and the Middle East is to continue, an increased focus should be put on resettling vulnerable people from Libya, Egypt, Niger, Sudan, Chad and Ethiopia.
“Europe has to show that it is ready to share responsibility with third countries, notably in Africa. People who are in genuine need of protection should not risk their lives or depend on smugglers,” Avramopoulos said.
23,000 people resettled
Libya is the main jumping-off point for many people willing to brave potentially dangerous sea journeys across the Mediterranean in search of better lives in Europe. Egypt, Sudan, Chad and Niger – one of the main migrant transit countries in Africa – all border Libya.
Resettlement is managed by the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which selects refugees who have a continued need for international protection.
European countries are individually responsible for deciding on resettlement numbers so they cannot be legally bound by Brussels to take more people in.
Last year, the main beneficiaries of UNHCR-facilitated resettlement programmes were refugees from Syria, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq and Somalia.
The EU has already resettled 23,000 people from refugee camps in countries outside the EU under the scheme, mainly Turkey and Jordan, which were overwhelmed with people fleeing the war in Syria.
The resettlement programme is different from the EU’s compulsory refugee quotas, which involved moving asylum seekers who had already reached Italy and Greece to other EU countries.
The latter scheme, which ended on Wednesday, saw just 29,000 people out of a planned 160,000 shared out around EU states to ease the pressure on the overstretched Greek and Italian authorities.
The commission also said it wants to ensure that those not permitted to stay in Europe are returned to their home countries more quickly.
“We have to be clear and brutally honest, people who have no right to stay in Europe must be returned,” Avramopoulos said.
He also said that the commission would propose a temporary extension to allow countries such as Germany, Austria, Denmark and non-EU country Norway to keep systematic ID checks in place.
Schengen border controls
Separately, the EU also released plans on Wednesday to allow countries in the passport-free Schengen area to reintroduce border controls for security reasons for up to three years.
Countries in the 26-country Schengen travel area can currently reintroduce frontier checks for six months for security reasons, and two years if that is combined with a threat to borders.
“Under today’s proposals, member states will also be able to exceptionally prolong controls if the same threat persists,” the commission said in a statement.
Avramopoulos however said this should be a “last resort”, and that keeping the Schengen area open for travel should be a priority.
Several countries, including France and Germany, have called for the extension after a series of attacks. France reinstated the checks after the November 2015 Paris attacks.
Border checks introduced by Germany, Denmark, Austria, Sweden and Norway in May 2016 to deal with a huge influx of refugees and migrants into Europe from Syria and North Africa are set to expire in November.
The reintroduction of so many checks raised concerns about the collapse of the Schengen zone, seen by many in Europe as a symbol of unity and freedom.
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