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In Somaliland, girls are expected to marry young and become mothers. Now she’s studying at a top US college

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People seldom motivate girls to go to school or be educated

FRANCESCA CROCE

In Sahra Jaamac’s home country, girls marry at a very young age – her younger sister got married at 16. But this fall, Sahra is headed back to Brandeis University to start her sophomore year studying Neuroscience.

A former student of the Abaarso School that was founded by an ex-hedge-fund analyst to prepare kids in Somaliland to study in the US, Sahra shared her story with us.

Tell me about your background.

I’m from a town near Hargeisa called Gabilay. My family is very large as I have seven half-siblings from my father and six siblings from both my parents. My oldest sister is married and has five children and my younger sister is also married (she is 18 now but got married at 16). I’m not married because of education. I’m pretty lucky though because my family gave me the choice. Both my parents are not educated, they didn’t go to school. My dad knows Arabic because he studied the Quran but that’s it. He was the one who motivated me to go to school. When I was young my mom didn’t want me to go to school, not because she didn’t want me to be educated but at that time it was a bad thing to send your daughter to school. She was just following the norms. My dad convinced her and that’s how I went to school. Even when I didn’t know Abaarso, I still had hopes to go to college. My goal was to do very very well in school to go to college outside of Somaliland.

How did you end up at Abaarso? Did any of your siblings go to college?

I had to take the 8th-grade national examination, those who fail do not go to high school. Basically, the exam determines if you are qualified for high school or not. I had the best scores in all of Somaliland, it was the first time a girl was a number one student. I wanted to go to a boarding school that was much better known than Abaarso at the time but in the ended up selected to Abaarso.

I am the first of my family to leave the country and study. My older half-brother went to college but dropped out so as of now I am the only one of my siblings who is going to college. I am hoping that two of my younger siblings will go to Abaarso. I have to consider the financial situation though. There are people that are much worse off than us so I want to make sure that the people who really need a scholarship are able to get it and I will help my sisters as much as I can.

When did you first come to the Unites States? What surprised you the most when you came here?

I went to the US before I went to Brandeis. During senior year of high school thanks to an Abaarso program, I went to an all-girls school in Virginia called Chatham Hall and I applied to college from there.

As to what I found most surprising, I’d say: using forks. Honestly, before I came to the US I used a fork once when I got into the program when there was an event for students going to the US. In fancy hotels in Somaliland, they have forks but I never practiced how to use it, because it requires skill. I always ate with my hands, no one uses forks. I would go to a formal dinner and everyone would be quiet and I would try to use the fork and it would fall on my plate and make a very loud noise. People who were eating with me couldn’t believe I didn’t know how to use a fork. It was so embarrassing but at the same time so shocking.

You mentioned your sister got married very young. Is that very common in Somaliland?

Yes, it is very common. The reason is that no one motivates girls to go to school or be educated even if they have the option to, still, no one is going to bother. If you are a girl who grew up in a family where her mom is not educated and neither are her friends, their biggest goal is getting married. It’s the only thing they can aspire to in my society. When you grow up in an environment like that, it affects you. It is easy to drop out because no one sees girls going to school as an important thing. For boys, it’s something that they have to do. Parents will always insist that boys go to school and they will make sure they attend every class. For example, if one day your family needs help at home to take care of a kid or clean it’s ok for the girl to stay home and miss class and the family won’t see it as a big deal but for the boy he’s not allowed to skip class, even if he wants to. They think that for the boy it will damage his future.

What would you say to girls back home? What did Abaarso teach you?

Believe in yourself. Whatever you do, do it for YOU. As a young girl, I wanted to be educated although I grew up in a society in which women are not educated. I wanted to do something different. I wanted to stand out and to do something girls hadn’t done before. Most of the time, men misuse religion so that women can be oppressed. Sometimes when I argue with men or point out my opinion they will say I am a bad Muslim. It doesn’t change what I believe and the relationship I have with God.

To be honest, girls who went to Abaarso are so lucky, including myself. We learned so much there, we could compete with boys and can always determine our future. I have so many friends who have gone through so much to get educated, it’s unbelievable. I am lucky I was born in a family who believed it was important to respect their children’s choice.

Diaspora

U.S. Put 92 Somalis on a Deportation Flight, Then Brought Them Back

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Ninety-two Somali citizens were flown out of the United States under orders of deportation on Thursday, but their plane never made it to Somalia. The flight landed in the West African country of Senegal and, facing logistical problems, was rerouted back to the United States.

It was an unexpected, 5,000-mile backtrack for the migrants, some of whom have lived in the United States for years, or even decades, while on a list for deportation because they had entered the country without proper documentation.

In recent weeks, dozens of Somali citizens were transported from their homes in the United States — many were living in Minnesota — to Louisiana in preparation for the flight. A few, with the help of lawyers, managed to secure stays of removal.

The 92 on the plane got only as far as Senegal’s capital, Dakar, according to United States Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In an emailed statement on Friday, the agency said it was notified that a relief flight crew was “unable to get sufficient crew rest due to issues with their hotel in Dakar,” so the aircraft and detainees spent time parked at the airport there. It added that “various logistical options were explored, and ultimately ICE decided to reschedule the mission to Somalia and return to the United States with all 92 detainees.”

Civilians helping a man who was injured in a suicide car bomb explosion in Mogadishu, Somalia’s capital, in October. Credit Feisal Omar/Reuters

War, famine and disease have killed hundreds of thousands of people in Somalia since the central government collapsed in 1991. Militants, including members of the Shabab, an Islamist terrorist group, are still carrying out deadly attacks in the Horn of Africa country. A pair of truck explosions killed hundreds of people on one of the busiest streets in Mogadishu, the capital, in October. It was the deadliest attack the city had experienced in decades.

Kim Hunter, a lawyer whose firm represents two men who were on the flight, said it did not make sense to send her clients back to such a dangerous country.

“The security situation is abysmal,” she said on Thursday. “I, apparently, was naïve because I actually believed that following the Oct. 14 bombing, this flight might be suspended.”

Ms. Hunter learned on Friday that the flight had turned around and her clients’ deportations had been rescheduled, though it was unclear for when. An ICE spokeswoman said the agency does not provide that information in advance.

Ms. Hunter said she also had no advance notice when immigration officials recently transported five of her clients from their Minnesota homes. (They were first taken to Louisiana to prepare for their deportation.) Her law firm scrambled to secure stays of removal for the men and helped three avoid the flight.

Now that the other two have had their deportations delayed, Ms. Hunter said she would keep working to prevent their removal. Neither client has a criminal record, and both have been in the United States for more than a decade. One is married to a permanent resident and has children who are United States citizens.

“We’re inclined to think that this sort of failed flight reflects on the fact that more deportations are being carried out in haste and are perhaps not as well-planned as they might have been previously,” she added.

One Somali woman in Minnesota, who did not want to give her name for fear of getting her family in trouble with the authorities, said in a phone interview on Friday that her cousin was among those on the flight.

She said she had been desperate for answers since Wednesday, when her cousin called from Louisiana saying he was about to be deported. “I was very sad. I cried, and he told me not to make him cry,” she said, adding that it would be dangerous for him to land in Mogadishu because he had no connections there. “He hasn’t seen Somalia for the last 20 years.”

Many Somali citizens who are in the United States without documentation have been able to stay for years despite deportation orders because Somalia would not grant them the necessary travel documents. Mogadishu, which opened an embassy in Washington in 2015, appears to be cooperating with American officials to accept more of its citizens back.

The number of Somali people being deported from the United States has risen since 2014. During that fiscal year, 65 Somali citizens were removed from the United States. That number jumped to 120 the next year, and 198 the year after that.

In the fiscal year 2017, 521 Somali citizens were deported, according to the most recent report from ICE. A spokeswoman for the agency said there were five chartered flights to Somalia that year.

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Canada

Canada’s immigration minister warns against illegal crossings at Minnesota’s northern border

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Canada’s immigration minister, Ahmed Hussen, arrived in Minnesota just days after the U.S. Supreme Court let stand for now new travel restrictions for eight countries, including Somalia — the land a teenage Hussen fled with his family.

But even as he has come to symbolize for some the divergent immigration philosophies on either side of the U.S.-Canada border, Hussen shuns criticism of the Trump administration’s approach. In fact, he was in the Twin Cities this week in part to discourage a spike in asylum-seekers crossing into Canada this year that has tested the country’s famously welcoming attitude.

“We are huge fans of immigration, but we want people to immigrate through the regular channels,” he said.

In a speech at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey School of Public Affairs, Hussen touted Canada’s measured approach, including a gradual increase in immigration planned over the next three years.

He met with resettlement agency staff and other advocates, plugging a unique Canadian program in which private citizens and churches sponsor some refugees.

Members of the local Somali community, where he enjoys rock star status, threw him a welcoming reception in Minneapolis.

“He is an icon,” said Mohamed Ahmed, a local community leader and Bush Foundation fellow. “People see him as an example of what is possible in the West.”

The first Somali-Canadian elected to parliament and appointed as minister, Hussen was 16 when he arrived alone in Toronto, where older brothers had resettled earlier. He has spoken of finding a sense of belonging on his high school track team and of enduring a two-hour commute as he worked at a gas station to save money for college.

He got a law degree from the University of Ottawa and practiced criminal and immigration law. Once a receptionist in an opposition politician’s office, he was elected to parliament in 2015. In January, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau tapped him to lead the Ministry of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship.

“I am a big champion of our immigration system because I have been through it,” said Hussen, whose visit to Minneapolis was his third to the United States since becoming minister.

In the media, Hussen is often cast as an emblem of Canada’s stance against anti-immigration sentiments sweeping the United States and Europe. But he is unfailingly diplomatic about the differences between the Canadian and American approaches, saying only he has a good working relationship with counterparts on this side of the border. And, he stresses, Canada is by no means unified in support of more immigration.

A recent rise in illegal border crossings into Canada has triggered pushback from conservative politicians there and concerns from border communities such as the Manitoba city of Emerson, unsettled and overwhelmed by the arrivals. In Manitoba, many of those arrivals have been Somalis who had unsuccessfully applied for asylum in the United States. Now, Hussen and some Canadian lawmakers are reaching out to immigrant communities to highlight that border crossers undergo rigorous screening and face deportation if their asylum claims fall short.

“We don’t want people uprooting their lives based on false information,” Hussen said. “Crossing the border irregularly is not a free ticket to Canada.”

Ahmed said word in the local Somali community remains that Canada offers a much gentler welcome to those arriving at its border with asylum claims. He spoke of a friend, a permanent resident who faced deportation after a criminal conviction, who crossed into Canada this year. Though he doesn’t know yet if he will be granted asylum, the friend reports receiving subsidized housing and free legal help, Ahmed said.

To a packed auditorium at the Humphrey School, Hussen touted a plan the Canadian government released in November that will bring in almost 1 million new immigrants by 2020. About 60 percent will be employment-based immigrants, largely arriving through a merit-based system that awards points for education, language and professional skills, among other factors.

Hussen said doing immigration right requires an investment: The Canadian government is spending $1 billion this year on language classes, help with finding jobs and other integration efforts. But he said bringing in newcomers is crucial to ward off a looming labor shortage given Canada’s aging population.

“We strongly believe immigration is key to our future success in Canada,” he said.

Hussen also praised a Canadian refugee resettlement system in which, alongside the government’s program, private citizens and organizations commit to supporting refugees for a year.
The country has found these refugees do better easing into Canadian life. Hussen said the United Kingdom and several Latin American countries are modeling new programs on the Canadian approach, though he hasn’t yet fielded inquiries from the United States.

Hussen said with more refugees displaced globally than ever before in modern history, Canada plans to remain a key player in resettlement: “More people are on the move, and we can’t turn our heads away.”

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Minnesota

Plane carrying deportees to Somalia returns to the United States

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Mila Koumpilova

A plane with deportees to Somalia, including at least four from Minnesota, returned to the United States Friday after a stop in Senegal that immigration authorities said did not go according to plan.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement said in a statement that a flight with 92 deportees headed back after a refueling and pilot exchange stop in Dakar. As the plane landed in Dakar, ICE was notified relief crew members were not able to get enough rest because of issues with their hotel, and the plane remained parked at the airport to allow the relief crew time to rest.

“Various logistical options were explored, and ultimately ICE decided to reschedule the mission to Somalia and return to the United States with all 92 detainees,” said the statement from the agency, which declined to provide further details.

Local attorneys for several of the deportees on the flight said they were baffled by the turn of events — but hopeful the flight’s return might offer some of their clients a long-shot opening to block their deportations.

The number of Somalia natives the United States deports to their homeland has increased markedly in recent years, and the Trump administration this year removed that country from a list of nations deemed uncooperative on deportations. The U.S. government has argued that conditions in the East African country have improved sufficiently to return people there. Advocates have pointed to a string of deadly terror attacks in Somalia as they insist the country remains unsafe.

John Bruning, an attorney at Kim Hunter Law in St. Paul, said his office had two clients on the flight, both of whom unsuccessfully applied for asylum in the late 1990s and early 2000s. After receiving final deportation orders, they had been checking in with ICE regularly for years until they were detained earlier this year. One of them worked as a cardiovascular technician at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester. In a dramatic last-minute turnaround, a federal judge blocked temporarily the deportations of three other clients who were slated to be on Thursday’s flight.

“This doesn’t add up to me,” Bruning said of ICE’s statement. “We’re still trying to wrap our minds around what is going on.”

Bruning said the two men on the flight have pending claims with the Board of Immigration Appeals though it is unlikely that decisions in those cases will come during what will probably be a short stint in the United States until another flight to Africa can be arranged. Still, he said his office is trying to find out more about the circumstances of the return to determine if it might offer any chance to make a fresh case on their behalf.

Habon Osman, whose husband Cabduqaadir Mayow was on the plane, said she hoped the plane’s return might give him another chance. The couple is legally married, but her husband was arrested days before their religious ceremony. “It’s the worst story of my life,” she said. “I have a little bit of hope he came back, but you never know.”

Linus Chan at the University of Minnesota’s Center for New Americans, which is representing another deportee on the flight, said he is also exploring whether the plane’s return might provide an opening for his client. He said he was encouraged by the outcome in federal court for Bruning’s three clients.

He said the flight’s return seems like an ordeal for those on board, though he noted ICE might not be at fault for the issues in Dakar. The agency said the air conditioning remained on throughout the stay in Dakar, and the plane was stocked with enough food and water.

“You’ve been sitting in detention for months,” he said. “You’re on a plane to Somalia, and the next thing you know you are heading back to the US. That’s got to be terrible.”

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