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Ethiopia: Jesuit Refugee Service could sense my grief

Participants in the Pastoral Program at the Jesuit Refugee Service Emergency Needs Program meet each Friday in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. (Christian Fuchs — Jesuit Refugee Service/USA)
Tuesday, October 23, 2012

(Addis Ababa) October 23, 2012 — Paul, a refugee from Somalia who fled seeking a safer life only to find more trouble on the road to safety, shares with us his journey. Now living in the Ethiopian capital, Paul has found some measure of peace from the Jesuit Refugee Service Emergency Needs Program in Addis Ababa.

My name is Paul* and I was born in 1988 in Puntland, Somalia. I am an orphan as I lost both my parents before the age of 10, due to the violent conflict in Somalia. 

My parents had good jobs — my father was a senior police officer and my mother a school teacher. However, my father was part of the old police regime in Somalia and was shot and killed when I was just seven years old. Three years later, the school my mother worked at was blown up and she died in the explosion. 

After they died, my mother’s friends and neighbors helped me to travel to Mogadishu, the capital city. From then onwards, until I turned 14, I lived on the streets in the Bakara Market, trying to survive. 

However in 2004, I was arrested during a religious uprising and spent the next five years in jail. Being a Christian can be dangerous in Somalia as we are in the minority and can be persecuted by extremist groups.

Life in jail was horrendous — I was raped and tortured during my stay there. I would receive tea and bread just once in every five days.

Thankfully, during my last year in jail, I meta fellow prisoner who helped me get out. In 2010, I left Mogadishu and travelled to the Kenyan border, managing to cross illegally. Once there, I visited the police station and stayed there for a month. 

Eventually it was agreed with the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) in Nairobi that I could be assisted, and I entered Kakuma refugee camp, northern Kenya.  However life there was hell for me. I suffered a lot due to my Christianity and I was beaten up more than five times by fellow Somalis who did not understand my faith.  

In the end I decided to escape to Ethiopia, but I was arrested after five days of walking. Once released, I fled to South Sudan and stayed there for three months. Eventually I got the courage to continue my journey again and managed to reach Ethiopia. My first two nights were spent sleeping in front of a church in Addis Ababa.  

My luck started to change when I metan Ethiopian who directed me to the Ethiopian Administration for Refugee and Returnee Affairs (ARRA). They contacted UNHCR in Kenya to transfer my details. I received a temporary pass to stay in Ethiopia while my case was processed.  

ARRA then directed me to Jesuit Refugee Service, where I was assisted by their Emergency Needs Program.

The staff at the JRS office sympathized with me and could sense my grief. They provided me with financial assistance for accommodation and food.  

I am so very grateful for the treatment and support I received from JRS. Finally, I am able to settle somewhere safe and welcoming.

*Not his real name


The Emergency Needs Program was established in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 1997. It provides one-time financial, medical and non-food items emergency assistance, as well as pastoral accompaniment to asylum seekers and vulnerable refugees who do not receive assistance elsewhere. Currently JRS is the only organization that provides this kind of support to asylum seekers awaiting a decision on their refugee status applications, and undocumented refugees, in Addis Ababa. In 2011, JRS provided emergency support to approximately 3,600 refugees and asylum seekers.


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