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Appendix 07: My Life Journey as a Refugee
Tuesday, May 21, 2013

by Abdul Sheikh

As a Somali refugee, Abdul Sheikh is able to reflect on a childhood full of tragedy and life-threatening experiences.  Having found asylum within the United States, Abdul feels it is important to share his life experiences with others:

I was born in 1984 in Somalia, a land of great beauty and promise that attracted tourists from around the world, who came to enjoy the friendly people and peaceful country.  Now, however, Somalia is overwhelmed by famine, war, and violence; leaving no person unaffected. 

When I was seven years old, my father and mother divorced.  As a result, my three siblings and I lived with my father, while two of my other siblings lived with my mother.  I have not seen them in more than 10 years, and have no knowledge as to their whereabouts or if they are still alive.  My father, a religious leader in Mogadishu, the capital, was shot and killed during the civil war (1992), due to his association with a specific tribe. My father was a great man who loved his children – I miss him dearly. 

After his death, I lived with my father's immediate family for a few years, then moved with some of my friends to Ague, a small rural town outside Mogadishu. Here, my friends and I lived a "dark life," a term in Somalia usually associated with a life of a nomad. Due to the tribal warfare that had overtaken the country at the time, I was afraid that a rival tribe would try to kill me, like my father. Therefore, it was essential that I keep on the move, constantly running away from people that I thought would do me harm. 

Everyday I prayed that my life would change for the better, and one day soon it did. My friends and I fled across the Somalia/Kenya border in the town of Mandera, Kenya. Thanks to the generosity of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, we were provided with food and assistance in Mandera for two and a half years. Several months later, we moved to the Eastleigh section of the Kenyan capital of Nairobi.  Shortly after our arrival in Nairobi, the friends that I was traveling with were reunited with their family in the United States, while I on the other hand, had become desperate and homeless, scavenging for food to survive. 

Fortunately, while I was in Mandera, I was befriended by a gentle old man from Kenya who helped me significantly. People called him “Mzee,” though I do not know his formal name I will always remember his generosity. He provided me with food, shelter, clothing, and hope. He enrolled me in a school that was operated by a Canadian and American church, and always encouraged me to study hard. He pushed me to get an education and not to waste time doing things that would distract me from my studies. I studied English at the school until November of 2000. Shortly thereafter, the refugee coordinator at the U.S. Embassy in Kenya, along with two other U.S. citizens, helped me move to the United States in December of 2000. 

Because I was an unaccompanied minor and had no immediate family members, I was granted asylum by the United States government. I will never forget their compassion and help. Living in the United States is very different than Somalia. I currently live in Virginia, and enjoy the everyday freedom, free public education, abundance of food, religious toleration, and security that the United States provides.

I recently graduated from high school and have begun to pursue a degree in international studies and political science. With my education, I intend to make a difference in the lives of those less fortunate than me.  Although I will never forget the hardships I once faced as a refugee, I also feel that it is essential that I return to Somalia, my homeland.

Ultimately, I believe that it is important to reach out and provide support to others who have had similar life experiences and to share my story so that Americans, will become aware of the persecution and injustices that I and other refugees have experienced. 

(This reflection appears originally on the USA for UNHCR website.)