Ilhan was smuggled out of a neighbouring country at the height of the conflict in Somalia. Her father and two sisters were killed in the southern port of Kismayo; she was separated from her mother and brother when she fled across the border.

Ilhan has made a success of her life in Stockholm, but told IRIN she had seen many unaccompanied Somali children struggle to cope:

Of the group of 15 I joined in 1995, only two of us got through to the end of the education system. Some got pregnant, some became alcoholics, some are on drugs, and some ended up in juvenile centres. Some are on their own in flats and ostracized by the Somali community. One Somali girl is about to have a baby. I don't think any remain with their relatives any more. Another lives on her own and has a three-year-old child. There is another Somali girl of 18 who had a baby and is living in one of the Swedish homes. You could say she is a bit of an outcast.

When Ilhan was flown abroad, she was told only the day before. This is her story:

When I was told I had to go away, I was devastated. It was all too unknown: I was without my mother; I was living with an aunt. I was told I "might" find my relatives. I cried. I said I wouldn't, but I couldn't resist.

I met the smuggler at the airport. I was told nothing about him before. Then I was told that "this is your father now". He carried a passport for me. I had no problem going through immigration; it was obvious he had done it all before. I thought I was going to the United States at the time. He didn't talk much. He told me what to eat, that sort of thing. I was scared, and tongue-tied. I don't remember the flight well.

When I got out of the plane, he told me "sit here and I'll be back", and left me somewhere in the airport. I waited for hours. I dozed. A policeman came to me eventually and spoke to me in a language I didn't understand. But I realized I was not in the US. He pointed at me, and said, "Somali?", and I said yes. He took me - he was businesslike, quite cold with me, and carried on sometimes speaking at me in Swedish. He took me to a room where I stayed for a very long time. I was very hungry, and cold.

Eventually, they got someone on the phone who acted as a translator. He asked my name, and then questioned it, which made me angry. After that they took my fingerprints and my picture. I had a small bag, and they looked through it. They gave me a card, and a train ticket, and told me to go to the refugee centre at Carlslund. Another Somali man had joined me, so we travelled together. We didn't know anything! Trying to get to that centre!

We reached Carlslund at about 10 p.m. I met other Somalis, which was a relief. They offered me tea and bread, but by that time I just couldn't stomach anything. They showed me a room, with sheets and blankets. After that, I started the asylum process.

I didn't know I had relatives here, but after five months my mum's cousin showed up. He knew I was here through another cousin. At first it was very difficult for me. I was very quiet, subdued, it was tough. I remember it as a very long, scary time - but then you start to adapt and it gets tolerable.

I went to live with my mum's cousin. It was just him and me, and it felt a very uncomfortable situation to begin with. He was dating. I was always around the house and his lady friends would show up. But then I went to school later, and had contact with women and girls, and I went to high school. I made friends, and I got on all right with the language. I am qualified to go to university, but I want a break.

I now have contact with my mother. My uncle found her after six years - it was amazing. After all those years with no shoulder to cry on, I found her. We arranged a meeting in Kenya, but she could see that after all this time, I had grown, had become an individual, and she cried a lot for me. We had two months together in [the Kenyan capital] Nairobi and then she had to return with my brother to Somalia. I asked her if I could bring her into Sweden through immigration, but she said she was too old to adapt to a new society.

I would like to go back to Somalia. I'll always feel Somali. But I know it will be difficult. Here, it is a very individual culture. Even in Nairobi, I felt odd. I felt out of place. I would want my children to be brought up in Somalia. Here it is very difficult, because you are not allowed to discipline children; but I believe you have to be able to smack them and keep them in line. I have seen too many young Somalis here fall into bad habits like drugs and alcohol - it would be much better to have a family in Somalia.
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A Gap in their Hearts - the experience of separated Somali children
Personal Accounts
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