A long walk to freedom: from Dadaab refugee camp to Minnesota

Hassan is a refugee advocate based in the Twin Cities, Minnesota.

Anyone who has ever been forced to flee his or her home country due to war, famine or political reasons and has taken refuge in a different country as a refugee has a story to tell.

I was not lucky enough to have enjoyed peace and tranquility in my home country until my fifth-birth-day. But rather spent most of my life in an open cage called refugee camp in the North Eastern part of Kenya which is one of the most hostile and hottest areas in East Africa. At the peak of the civil war in Somalia, my family and I had to flee for our lives. After eleven days and nights of turmoil and torture, we by foot made it to Kismaio- a port city in the southern Lower Juba province of Somalia.

A long walk to freedom

Hoping that life would be more stable than it was in Mogadishu, Somalia. In a few months, we found ourselves caught up in the middle of another terrible and fearful gun fire in Kismaio. With my dad still missing in the aftermath of the civil war in Somalia, my beloved deceased uncle, may God rest his soul in peace-Amin, emerged to be the hero to get us out of the troubled port city Kismaio to cross the border to Kenya and acquire our new name ‘‘refugees” for the first time in what we did not choose to be.

At Liboi- the border between Somali and Kenya, we were received by the government of Kenya and UNHCR- United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees who issued us wrist bands that barred their logo to give us our new status as “refugees” which was hard to accept. But for the safety of our lives that was the only option. In few weeks time, we were ‘shipped’ I would say to the largest refugee camp in the world “Dadaab Refugee Camp in the North Eastern region of Kenya. I said we were literally shipped because we were all dumped in unroofed semi-truck with temperatures over 90 degrees Celsius, and rough roads as animals being shipped to the port — not a welcoming reception.

From Capital city of Somalia to Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp

From Mogadishu, the capital city of Somalia to the largest refugee camp in the world, life was a nightmare as tents were the best shelter one could find and call home. Being exposed to different forms of fear and other hiccups of life, we finally got settled faster than we expected. Here we had to decide our future and pray for the good. With my dad still missing and having lost my uncle in a few months after we were settled in the camp, my mom felt the burden of being the only bread winner of the family. I would say mom had almost no job opportunity as the refugee camp did not accommodate any. I want to praise my mom for being my hero for making me who I am today. She assured us that she will provide for us under all circumstances and encouraged us to be in school. Mom had the courage to join a local weaving school funded by one of the organizations serving the refugees. She managed to get some skills in weaving and some art work. She was trained in how to weave Somali traditional mats, hats and baskets. Mom spent hours while we were in school to make her artwork and sold them to tourists and other people who were interested in them. I want to thank God to be blessed with the best mom.

With the entire struggle, I managed to graduate from high school and to make my mom proud of me. After high school graduation, I obtained a job as a teacher at one of the local middle schools. Later on I managed to move on to get a better paying job with IRC-International Rescue Committee and life held more hope than before.

In 2007, there was a massive resettlement opportunities for refugees through UNHCR to the refugees who have been living in the refugee camp for some time and had nowhere else to go. Two years later in 2009, we were lucky enough to be interviewed for what appeared to be our first resettlement interview. After the completion of all resettlement interview phases that are tiresome and stressful, we were recommended for a flight to the twin cities. At the peak of 2010, my siblings and mom had been summoned for their flight and I had to stay back in the camp because my case had been under security screening which might take years to complete.

I had to stay back in the camp for three years after my siblings and mom got resettled in the twin cities, Minnesota.

As the security screening of my case took longer, I decide to marry Nimo Hassan- my beautiful wife. Mid 2013, right after the birth of my first daughter Sundus, I was also summoned for my flight to rejoin my siblings and mom in Minnesota. It was hard to leave my wife and daughter but I was left with no other choice. In 2014, Nimo and I were again blessed with a baby boy who later in 2016 passed away in Nairobi Kenya without me even setting my eyes to him.

I did not go back to Kenya to see my wife and kids since I left in 2013 because I was trying hard to make ends meet. Right when I arrived in Minnesota, I applied for a refugee visa in request for family reunification, but it took longer than I thought. After years of waiting, I am glad and excited that my daughter and wife will be joining me here in the twin cities on the 6th of June, 2017.

Coping with Minnesota Nice and what it has to offer

Growing up in a hot environment, it was hard to cope with the freezing temperatures of Minnesota during winter, but eventually got used to it. Currently, I work with the St. Paul School District and I am happy to serve my community and make a difference in the lives of people through hope and education. I am also a freelancer and cultural broker. I can also call myself a refugee expert from having to live in a refugee camp for over nineteen years as a refugee and employee as well.

I also help new refugees in Minnesota find needed information of resources that are available for them.

Through RCO- Refugee Center Online– an organization based in Portland Oregon that serves refugees nationwide by providing them with online resources. I am able to refer newcomers to the RCO website, TheRefugeeCenter.org which has resources that are translated into a variety of languages such as Swahili, Arabic, and Spanish to name a few. The website provide newcomers with free information on resources available for refugees and immigrants.

It has been a long walk to freedom. Today, I am a full time student at Metropolitan State University in St. Paul Minnesota. I am pursuing a degree in MIS-Management Information Systems. After all that time in a refugee camp, life holds hope here in the United States and I am happy to call the Twin Cities my home with the support of my mother and my siblings.

Recommended for you: 3 Powerful Tips To Achieve Success – For refugees and immigrants. Click here to read this article and share it to help change someone’s future!

Refugees shaking hands

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