Google+ Followers

Monday, August 10, 2015

Two Somalian refugees reach Winnipeg after swimming down the Red

Two Somalian refugee claimants crossed the border into Canada the hard way this week -- in the Red River.

On Wednesday, Yahya Samatar, who was shivering and soaking wet, climbed out of the Red River in Emerson, and into the pickup truck of a Good Samaritan who cranked up the heat, gave him a sweater and called 911.

"I didn't know where to go," said Samatar, a 32-year-old English-speaking aid worker from Somalia. In an interview with the Free Press Thursday, he said he and a companion were dropped off just south of the Canadian border crossing after midnight Tuesday. "I saw the lights of the port" at Emerson, he said. They were both afraid U.S. border patrols would pick them up and send them back to Somalia, so they headed for the bush.

"I crossed the farms and saw the bushes. I went in the bushes and saw the river."

Disoriented and in the dark, they figured the river ran east to west rather than south to north and, if they waded across it, they'd be safe in Canada, he said.

His companion entered the river with a backpack containing Samatar's wallet and phone. He was quickly swept up by the current and carried downstream, he said.

"I wasn't seeing him," Samatar said. He thought his friend had drowned. "I didn't hear him calling my name."

By that time, Samatar had already taken three steps into the mighty Red. Realizing it wasn't a lazy river they could just wade across, he scrambled back up on the bank.

"I slept in the bush." In the morning, he took a chance. "I thought I could cross if I left my trousers and shoes behind."

He learned to swim as a kid growing up in Kismaayo, a port city south of Mogadishu on the Indian Ocean, but he was not prepared for the cold, fast-moving river.

After two or three terrifying minutes in the water, Samatar said he swam back to shore and pulled himself out of the river. Shivering and shoeless, wearing nothing but shorts and a T-shirt, he walked into Emerson. "I didn't know if I'm in Canadian territory," Samatar said.

"I met a guy parking a truck... He was shocked by me when he saw my condition... He was a very nice guy." He told Samatar he was in Canada, gave him a sweater, put him in the cab of his truck with the heater running full blast and called 911. Paramedics and RCMP arrived.

After determining he wasn't hypothermic, Samatar was arrested, handcuffed, draped in a blanket and taken to the Canada Border Services Agency office nearby.

"They gave me food and trousers and a sweatshirt -- they gave me what they had."

The refugee claimant was interviewed, photographed, fingerprinted and given an October date for an Immigration and Refugee Board hearing. Then he was released.

But with no money, no one to call to pick him up, and nowhere to go, Canada Border Services Agency officials called Welcome Place in Winnipeg to get help for Samatar. Their offices had already closed, so they called Hospitality House Refugee Ministry. It handles private sponsorships of refugees, not refugee claimants, but their settlement manager jumped in her car and drove south to Emerson to get Samatar and put him up at Hospitality House residence in Winnipeg.

On Friday, Samatar learned his friend made it out of the river, hitchhiked to Winnipeg and was on his way to Toronto to make a refugee claim there.

Hospitality House settlement manager Karin Gordin took him to Welcome Place to fill out paper work for his refugee claim and to check in with the Canada Border Services Agency at The Forks.

"They were impressed with his English," Gordon said. "They told him he might have a future as an interpreter working for them."

Samatar hopes he's at the end of what has been a year-long survival odyssey.

He fled Somalia in August of last year when he became a target because he does aid work with a non-governmental organization and had no one to protect him.

"There's no functioning government," Samatar said. "As long as your clan has not a lot of power, you're at risk." Militia groups and Al Shabaab are active and night-time attacks are common, he said.

Samatar said he and his family scraped together US$12,000 to pay smugglers to get him to Ethiopia, then Brazil, and help him make his way by land through Central America to the U.S. border at Matamoros, Mexico. "I took buses and walked in the jungle for one month," he said.

In the U.S., he was apprehended as an illegal alien and spent six months in a detention centre in Texas and another 10 weeks in a centre in Louisiana. After his refugee claim was formally rejected, he was released to await deportation back to Somalia. Desperate to set down roots in some place safe, he headed north. A contact in Minneapolis's huge Somali community rented a car and drove Samatar and his companion close to the border crossing at Pembina, N.D., he said.

In Canada, the kindness of strangers has been a shock to his system, he said. He feels welcome and hopes to make this his home.

"I want to upgrade my education and get a job to support my family," said Samatar, who is married to a journalist who also fled Somalia. She is in Kenya with their baby and their three older children are with Samatar's mother.

"Hopefully, my asylum is accepted, and I can sponsor them."

carol.sanders@freepress.mb.ca

Return to Somalia: No longer a refugee

The flight took just one hour, but for 26 year old Fatuma and the 115 Somalis on board, it was the journey of a lifetime.

They have been living in exile for years, hosted in Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp located in a remote corner of northeastern Kenya.

On 5 August 2015, they went back home to Somalia. Fatuma returned to the Somali capital Mogadishu as a mother, bringing with her Fardowsa, born in May 2013 in the refugee camp where she lived for three years.

Dadaab has been a safe haven for refugees from Somalia, since it was initially set up in 1991 when civil war broke out in Somalia. Planned to host around 90,000 people, the complex of five camps has grown dramatically over the years, reflecting the reality on the other side of the border.

In Somalia, prolonged armed conflict compounded by consequences of recurring natural hazards, have forced millions to move in search of survival and protection. Today, 333,000 refugees make up the refugee population in Dadaab with the vast majority being from neighbouring Somalia – a country within which more than one million people continue to live in displacement.

Returning home, to areas people once fled from in Somalia, is a trend gaining ground over the past three years. More than 60,000 internally displaced have been supported by UNHCR and its partners to return to their areas of origin since mid-2012, and voluntary repatriation has picked up since a framework offering support to safe, dignified and sustainable returns was agreed on in 2013.

The Tripartite Agreement signed in November 2013 between UNHCR and the Governments of Kenya and Somalia, constitutes a framework to ensure that repatriation must be safe and dignified and fully voluntary.

Close to 2,600 Somali refugees decided to leave Kenya and return to their areas of origin in Somalia in the course of a seven-month Pilot Phase from December 2014 during which UNHCR provided repatriation and reintegration support.

Fatuma and the 115 refugees onboard of the plane from Dadaab, are the first refugees to return to Somalia since a new and enhanced repatriation programme was endorsed by the Tripartite Commission on 29 July.

From the dusty plains of Dadaab, they cruised over troubled areas of South Central Somalia where they could not go by road. Soon after, the plane prepared for landing in Mogadishu, along a beautiful stretch of coastline where Somalia meets the Indian Ocean.

On the ground waiting were several Somali government representatives eager to meet and greet the returnees. The UNHCR-sponsored flight allowed the group of now former refugees to return home despite the still fragile security situation in parts of their country. Future refugee returns will continue to be primarily by road, and only the most vulnerable will be airlifted from Kenya to Somalia.

In Dadaab, Fatuma ran a small kiosk and will now start looking for some start up assistance for a shop in Mogadishu to earn a living. Fatuma and her daughter are fortunate to have a home to return to. They will move into the house of her mother and sister, and wait for the return of her husband who is in South Africa. Other returnees, especially those who have been away from Somalia for many years, often need to start all over building once more a foundation for their lives and livelihoods.

UNHCR supports returnees to return and reintegrate in their areas of origin where an increasing number of rehabilitation and development projects are ongoing. The joint aim for these projects undertaken by UN agencies in collaboration with federal and regional government authorities, is to restore and create access to water, sanitation and basic services. For many, however, the choice to go back remains difficult, when their longing to return to their roots is overshadowed by fear of insecurity, continued conflict and lack of access to jobs, schools, hospitals and other essential facilities that are not yet in place.

While some – including the governments of Kenya and Somalia – argue that the returnees are part of the solution to rehabilitate and stabilize Somalia, many refugees in Kenya want to first see conditions in their home country that are more conducive to their return.

On board the plane from Dadaab was also Hureji Osman Siat, 72. She did not want to wait any longer to return. Hureji Osman Siat was on the plane with her daughter and several grandchildren, one of them a boy with a physical disability. In Dadaab, she was working with Handicap International and wants to continue working to serve her people through humanitarian work, she says.

Hureji Osman Siat left Mogadishu in 2008 and her house then located in a central part of the city. She returns without yet knowing where she and the rest of the family will settle. Most of the relatives are still in Dadaab, but Hureji Osman Siat says that their plan is to contact former neighbours to help them find a place to stay.

All she carries is 20 kilos of luggage, and a heart and mind full of hope. "I am happy to be back even if I have to sleep under a tree, because returning to Mogadishu is what I have been thinking about for a long time," she says.

By Alexandra Strand Holm Nairobi/Mogadishu

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Is the khat plant a cultural weed?


Khat (Somali qaat or jaad; Ethiopian chat) is a flowering plant native to tropical east Africa and the Arabian peninsula. It contains the alkaloid cathinone, an amphetamine-like stimulant which is said to cause both excitement and euphoria.
In 1980, WHO classified khat as a drug of abuse that can produce mild to moderate psychological dependence. It is a controlled/illegal substance in many countries but is legal for sale and production in many others.
In early 2009, a Nigerian was arrested at MIA while attempting to import khat into Malta.
During the weekend of October 3, 2009 a fight broke out at the ─Žal-Far open centre involving rival Somali tribe members. Subsequently, charges were brought against a number of individuals.
The Times of Malta (October 10, 2009) reported that the presiding magistrate was told that the fight had been sparked off by arguments between rival tribe members over “the recently legalised (narcotic) khat”.
Sometime in between the two incidents, the Maltese authorities had naively acquiesced to the legalisation of khat, in deference to the ‘cultural customs’ of Malta’s ever-growing illegal immigrant population.
Khat may have fuelled the violence featured in several incidents that made international news.
During the 1993 siege of Mogadishu, Somalis loyal to Mohammed Aideed, high on khat, battled the US military for many days. Four hundred Somalis, as well as 18 American servicemen, were killed.
Evidence suggests that it may be the narcotic of choice of suicide bombers and it (or its South African equivalent) must have induced in 5,000 Zulus a sense of invincibility at Rorke’s Drift and other battles in 1879 as they faced the superior British firepower.
Kenya is also a major producer, and the Kikuyu Mau Mau used khat to stimulate their resolve while taking their blood oath to fight the then British colonial regime. Likewise, khat may account for the audacity of Somali pirates.
When it comes to illegal immigration, Malta’s track record of enacting laws governing matters relating thereto, aside from being reactive, has been one of fits, starts, trial and error. This is pardonable considering that the government was ill-prepared for what was to come.
The Times of Malta (July 31) published details of the implementation of tighter controls on the use and distribution of khat. This action, brought about by the Justice Ministry, in collaboration with the Drugs Commissioner, is definitely a step in the right direction. Except that tolerance of this, or any other narcotic, for that matter, should be done away with.
Many in Malta would support a policy of zero tolerance. This would also make matters less complicated for law enforcement.
Ethnic, cultural and tribal differences have been more of a bane than a boon to the concept of regional harmony in Africa. There is no reason to believe things will be any different here, even with integration and assimilation.

Voluntary Repatriation of Somali Refugees Begins

The arrival Wednesday at Mogadishu International airport of 116 Somali refugees from a Kenyan camp marks a first step in efforts to repatriate greater numbers of Somali refugees from Kenya, the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees said.
An agreement by a Tripartite Commission, made up of the UNHCR, Kenya and Somalia, envisions the voluntary repatriation of some 425,000 Somali refugees from Kenya over a five-year period.
Most of the refugees – 330,000 – are living in Dadaab, the largest refugee settlement in the world.
Many of the refugees have been there since the 1990s and have given birth to children who have never been to Somalia.
FILE - An image of the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab, in northeastern Kenya. Photo taken in 2012.
FILE - An image of the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab, in northeastern Kenya. Photo taken in 2012.
The return of the 116 Somali refugees follows a pilot repatriation program begun in December, which has successfully returned 3,000 refugees to the relatively safe districts of Luuq, Baidoa and Kismayo.
UNHCR spokeswoman Karin de Gruijl told VOA the refugees are receiving some money, food, seeds and other assistance. But, she acknowledges the situation in Somalia is far from ideal.
“The social-economic situation is very, very difficult and the situation is not there yet for loads and loads of people to return at this moment," de Gruijl said.
Security precarious
"The security situation in Somalia remains precarious. That is why we are targeting the returns to specific areas where we feel that there is more stability and we hope with development projects, with the return of refugees these areas of stability may grow and counter that," she said.
Under the new Tripartite Commission agreement, de Gruijl said these areas have been increased to nine districts in south central regions of Somalia. Refugees who voluntarily return there and to areas in Somaliland and Puntland will receive assistance to help them integrate in their new lives, she added.
FILE - Karin de Gruijl, U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees spokeswoman, April 14, 2014.
FILE - Karin de Gruijl, U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees spokeswoman, April 14, 2014.
De Gruijl said one of the reasons some refugees want to return to their homes of origin is that life in the Dadaab refugee camp is becoming more difficult.
She said aid agencies, such as the World Food Program (WFP), are running out of money and have to cut back on their assistance.  
Reduction in aid
“WFP has just announced that it is going to reduce or has actually already reduced its food rations by 30 percent.  Refugees in the camps are not allowed to leave the camps, so it definitely is not a good living situation and there is very little hope for the future," de Gruijl said.
"These are conditions that might influence them to go back," she added.
De Gruijl said plans are underway to hold a pledging conference, possibly in October to raise money for development projects in Somalia.
The UNHCR spokeswoman said it is crucial to rebuild the country’s roads, clinics, schools and other infrastructure to ensure that refugee returns are sustainable.

Friday, August 7, 2015

Australians urged to develop taste for camel meat

People from the local Somali community flow in and out of the halal butcher's shop, located in Flemington, north-west of Melbourne's CBD.
Upon walking into an aroma of spices and raw meat, visitors are warmly welcomed by owner Abukar Hersi, who proudly boasts about what he describes as Australia's best-kept culinary secret.
"It's one of the best things you can have — it's a very rich meat, high in protein," he said.
"We have some Australians coming in saying 'I'd like to have a try', we've had MasterChef buy from us, so it's getting popular now.
"I think when Australians realise, we will see camel meat in every butcher and supermarket."
Mr Hersi is originally from Somalia, where his father was also a butcher.
There, those who can afford to eat camel meat and drink camel milk do so every day.
"In Somali culture the camel is everything, it's more than gold," he said.
"When you want to get married you have to give the best camels to the family. We're talking about 100 camels.
"If there is fighting or a problem, to make conversation, you give a camel."
At $12.99 per kilo, one whole camel feeds his customer base for a month.
One leg alone can weigh 70kg.
"We get the leg whole, the humps, the heart, we sell the liver, the kidney. We use the whole thing," he said.
"The shoulder is the best part, because the camel uses it less so it is softer."
Mr Hersi has just gone through his busiest period of the year, Ramadan, which is comparable to the Christmas season for most other Australian butchers.
During Islamic holy occasions, he orders an extra four camels to keep up with demand.
They are slaughtered at an abattoir in Alice Springs before being boxed and sold by a wholesaler to domestic and international markets.
More than 1 million wild camels are estimated to be roaming Australia's deserts, covering 3.3 million square kilometres.
News of camel culls in the Australian outback has driven demand from the Middle East and African countries, some of which view camel meat as a delicacy.
"People in the Middle East see Australia killing camels and cannot believe it," Mr Hersi said.
"There is a lot of interest."
Australian foodies have been dabbling in game meats such as crocodile, emu and possum for years.
But despite the huge population of this hardy humped mammal — initially brought to Australia in the 1800s by Afghan cameleers — there is a shortage of domestically-produced camel meat.
The Alice Springs abattoir has only been able to process about 200 camels in the last 12 months.
Meat exporters in the region have been calling on the government to redirect money for culling towards subsidising freight costs.
Rounding up feral camels is costly and challenging.
For the meat to be declared halal, the blood needs to be drained from the animal, which means being processed at an accredited abattoir.
Companies have in recent years been employing people from Indigenous communities to help with mustering.
The animals' wild nature means they produce a different meat to farmed camels in other parts of the world.
"These camels don't drink as much water, nobody is looking after him, and that makes the meat tougher," Mr Hersi said.
According to this second-generation butcher, Australian camel meat is best eaten after being marinated overnight in vinegar, ginger and spices and then slow-cooked.
Top city restaurants have expressed a demand for the game meat and supply cannot keep up with demand from wholesalers.
Mr Hersi is happy to let other Australians in on his secret.
He just hopes it doesn't become so trendy that it causes a hump in the price for his favourite meal.

Obama Admin. Extended Amnesty For Somalis, Despite Recent Terror Concerns

The Obama administration is extending the availability of Temporary Protected Status for current TPS beneficiaries from Somalia for another 18 months, through March 17, 2017.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services highlighted this week that the deadline for TPS Somalis to re-register is July 31. Those granted TPS are allowed to stay in the U.S. legally and are eligible for work authorization.

TPS is afforded to eligible nationals of countries the Secretary of Homeland Security designates due to conditions in the country that prevent its nationals from a safe return. A congressional aid noted that TPS often applies to immigrants without legal status, such as those who have overstayed their visas, and are issued on top of the government’s refugee programs.

“Friday, July 31, 2015, is the deadline for current Somalia Temporary Protected Status (TPS) beneficiaries to re-register for the 18-month extension of TPS that runs from Sept. 18, 2015, through March 17, 2017,” USCIS explained in a new notice. “The law requires USCIS to withdraw TPS for failure to re-register without good cause. Therefore, if you fail to re-register by this deadline, you may lose your TPS and your work authorization.”

Besides those TPS beneficiaries, the U.S. has additionally resettled thousands of Somali refugees in the U.S. So far this fiscal year, the U.S. has admitted 6,200 Somali refugees.

The extension of TPS comes following recent national security concerns involving Somali immigrants.

In April, for example, six Somali men living in Minnesota were charged with trying to join the terrorist group ISIS. Last year a naturalized Somali-American was sentenced to 30 years for a plot to blow up a Christmas tree-lighting ceremony in Oregon.

Fox News reports that since 2007, more than 22 young Somali men living in Minnesota have left to join the terrorist group al-Shabaab.




UN says Somalis making progress despite election delay

The UN envoy for Somalia on Wednesday insisted the country was making progress, a day after the government said elections cannot be held as promised in next year.

On Tuesday, Somalia's government admitted that insecurity and lack of political progress means there cannot be "one man, one vote" elections in 2016 as envisaged by the United Nations, foreign diplomats and the government itself.

"The road to democracy is there, but 2016 will be a stepping stone short of full democracy," said Nicholas Kay, the top UN diplomat in Somalia.

Kay said the announcement, which was greeted with dismay in Somalia, was "no surprise".

"It's a reality we've been staring at for quite a while," he said.

Kay spoke to AFP on the sidelines of the so-called High-Level Partnership Forum, a meeting of Somali and foreign delegates held in the capital on Wednesday and Thursday, despite a weekend suicide truck bombing at one of the city's biggest and most popular hotels.

The last forum was hosted in Copenhagen. Kay described this week's gathering as "the largest international meeting in Mogadishu in modern times" with discussions of what will happen in 2016, when the current government's four-year mandate expires, at the top of the agenda.

Kay said the process of state-building, after decades of civil war and anarchy, and the creation of a federal rather than a centralised administration, "is going well but has taken longer than expected".

Al-Qaeda affiliate, the Shebab, still controls parts of the rural south and attacks at will in Mogadishu, contributing to the difficulties of holding a nationwide poll.


- Government buying time? -


Late Wednesday the UN Security Council passed a resolution authorising until May 2016 the deployment of the 22,000-strong African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM), which fights Shebab and protects the government. The same resolution extended the mandate of the UN Assistance Mission in Somalia (UNSOM), headed by Kay, until March 2016.

Kay dismissed suggestions that the government might be stalling elections in the hope of extending their own mandate, and with it their employment and salaries.

"There is an overwhelming consensus that there should be an electoral process in 2016," he said, although he admitted, "one or two voices expressed interest in an extension of the current government's mandate."

What that electoral process might look like will be decided by the end of the year, with the Somali government due to hold public consultations before presenting proposals to the international community in early 2016.

"Whatever process happens in 2016 it must be demonstrably different -- and feel different -- to 2012," when President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud and his government were selected by clan elders.

That process was flawed and rife with vote-buying but Kay said it was, nevertheless, "an incredibly important achievement at the time".

"Something must happen that's a step forward from the 2012 process," Kay said.

The UN envoy insisted the 2016 deadline for a transfer of power "is still there" but warned of "a genuine risk" that rushed elections "could drive conflict".