"A refugee wishes they had your problems"

Posted by Amy Schwartz on Thu, Jun 24, 2010 at 15:27 pm

This is the second in a series of blogs by Amy Schwartz reporting from her summer fellowship at HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya.

There is a poster hanging in the HIAS Refugee Trust of Kenya Office by UNHCR that says, “Your Sympathy cannot help a refugee. But it is a beginning.”

Let me first give you a short background of what HRTK does and why their services are highly needed. First off, conflicts in Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Rwanda, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of the Congo have forced hundreds of thousands of refugees to seek safe haven in Kenya and Uganda. (HRTK does missions to Uganda 3+ times per year).

HRTK provides protection, psychosocial counseling and other assistance to these vulnerable asylum seekers and refugees who are mostly survivors of torture and/or sexual/gender-based violence.

Preparing for a few months before coming to HRTK, I knew in my mind that they worked directly with these vulnerable refugee groups, but as we all know…Seeing is believing.

I was surprised with my initial shock the first time I had to look into the eyes of a refugee. I went with one of our protection officers to pick up a client from a Cultural Orientation (where they learn how to integrate in their new country—this specific case was the U.S.) and drop her back off in Eastleigh, a slum of Nairobi where a lot of Ethiopian and Somali refugees live. It is my gut instinct to smile when I meet new people. So I smiled, and instantly I thought…no, Amy, don’t smile, this is not a happy moment. This woman—well, girl, about 19 years old—of the Oromo ethnic group from Ethiopia has been through trauma I could never even imagine.

We are then sitting next to each other in the back seat of the car and I pretty much froze. I did not know how to act or what to say. I was also very thirsty, but didn’t want to take out my purchased 1 Liter bottle of clean water right next to her. That would be rubbing that I have money into her face, right? And I can’t talk to her because we don’t speak the same language. But then again, HRTK is helping this young girl start a new life, so this is a happy moment, right?

And that is only the beginning. I haven’t even heard her story yet.

I want to share with you one of the many cases HRTK handles for resettlement.

The case below is not of the 19-year old from above, but from another young woman from Somalia.

Names are X’d for security reasons.

Nationality: Somali
Ethnicity: Mandiban
Gender: Female

My name is X. I come from Hamar in Somalia. Dad was a shoe shiner but he is now blind and does not work. Mum is a housewife.

I am married to ‘Y’. We got married in 2000 in Hamar in Somalia. I do not know his whereabouts at the moment. I last saw him almost six years ago when I was pregnant with ‘A’. I last saw him when we were attacked by the Hawiye (a Somali Clan) at our house and asked for money. They raped and shot me. That was the last time I saw him, when he ran away.

Reasons and Route for flight

I first fled my country for Kenya in 2005. I came with my son ‘A’ who is sick (with Hydrocephalus, an excessive accumulation of fluid in the brain). I left Somalia because I had been shot at by armed Hawiye men. I come from a very small clan in Somalia called the Madhiban. The bigger tribes use us like slaves.

In 2004, four Hawiye men come to our house and ordered my husband and me to give them money; failing to do so, they would kill us. My husband fled when he got the chance and they turned on me demanding for money. I have never seen my husband again and I do not know his fate to date.

The three men then raped me in turns and shot me after while I was still on the floor. All of them were carrying rifles but only one of them sprayed bullets at me. I was shot on the abdomen near the rib cage, chest, and legs and around my breast area. I lost consciousness and my neighbors took me to the hospital. I regained consciousness after two days and found myself at home dressed in bandages all over my body. They told me that doctors at the hospital removed several bullets from my body and stitched me up.The gunshot to my abdomen had missed the womb and vital organs, and they said that I was lucky to be alive. I stayed in bed for five months when I was recovering and gave birth to ‘A’ — I had been raped when I was already four months pregnant. The same people who shot me would still come to my house looking for me but I used to hide at my neighbors house.

After giving birth to ‘A’ I fled to Kenya in May 2005. Some of my clansmen assisted me and we started the journey by bus from Hamar and we arrived in Nairobi by lorry.

Stay in the country of asylum

In 2007, after a while some Somalis took me to UNHCR and I registered. I got my Mandate letter after one year of arrival.

I have gotten information that the people who attempted to kill me in Somali are in Nairobi. I was given this information by my clan member Hamila. She told me that she saw them in Eastleigh this year.

I have faced many problems in Nairobi since I arrived. My children are sick and I do not have money. I also do not have accommodation. People are fed up with me and all the people who used to assist me have since stopped.

I cannot go back to Somalia because I will be killed by the Hawiye there who are still looking for me. The country is also at war and dying is very easy.

This is Eastleigh, where ‘X’ currently lives.

There is also a poster in the HRTK office from the UNCHR that says,
“A refugee wishes they had your problems.”


Comments (0)