In-depth: Separated Somali Children

SOMALIA: Chapter 5: Personal Accounts - Ahmad

Photo: IRIN
NAIROBI, 6 January 2003 (IRIN) - Ahmad

Ahmad left Mogadishu in 1999 because of conflict. As their eldest son, his parents were afraid he would either get recruited by one of the young militias, or become targeted by them. Ahmad said he was pleased at first to be going to a new life abroad, but suffered when he ended up having to constantly shift around between different social services and homelessness departments:

I sat in the office from morning to evening waiting for a vacancy to come up… The homeless unit said they had no vacancies, and told me to come back another time. Now I am in a hostel for young people. It is one room, and I have to just sit there. I have a tiny amount of money to live on each week. Life is very lonely.

When Ahmad arrived in London, he realized that no one expected him or wanted to look after him:

I travelled on the plane with my fixer, who came off the plane with me in a big airport in Britain. He took me through the [immigration] controls. He came with me on a bus to central London and took me to a phone box, where he phoned some family friends.

I realized from the conversation they were not expecting me. He just told them I was here and they should come and collect me. He left me in the phone box. I was very nervous. I didn't know what would happen to me. I waited for some time, then someone did come, and took me to their house.

They gave me a place to sleep and some food - I was very young then, so they had to make sure I had something. It was a very big family, with a mother and seven children. It was a bit like a prison to me. I didn't know any of them. I thought: how am I going to get out of here?

The mother was nice to me, but the children - they had been here a long time, and they didn't like me. I was from Africa; everything about me was different. They were abusive and said very abusive things to me.

I lived with the family for about one year, but couldn't get on with them, and was very unhappy. It was very difficult. The family would talk to each other, and laugh, but I was separate, and I didn't understand any of them. I helped myself to food, but I was not getting clothes, and I felt unable to talk about this. My other problem was at school. I had been to secondary school, but I had a language problem. I sat in the class, but there was a lot I didn't understand. It was very difficult to do homework, because the place I was living was very overcrowded.

So I left. I went to social services and said I couldn't stay with the family. They said I was in the wrong zone, so I moved [from the] area. They would not accept me because I was 17. They told me to go to the homeless persons department and gave me a list of hostel vacancies. I was confused. I slept on the floor of a community organization for a about a month. I went back to the homeless unit. I was told: We don't deal with your sort of case, you should go back to social services. Then I was told I needed an assessment. Then I was advised to go to another social services. Then I tried a student advice centre, who phoned social services for me, but I was rejected because I was 17.

A community organization wrote a letter for me. After that, I was accepted by social services and they assessed me. They sent me back to the homeless persons department with a letter. But the homeless unit said they had no vacancies, and told me to come back another time. I sat in the office from morning to evening waiting for the next day, waiting for a vacancy to come up.

Eventually a vacancy did come up in a place very far from here. I was offered a flat on my own. Every day I travelled for about two hours to attend my college. I was very lonely, I was very low. So I was put on a waiting list, and after four months I was shifted. Now I am in a hostel. It's better but not easy. It is one room, and I have to just sit here. It is not a clean place. They provide dinner but during the day you cook for yourself. I get social security and housing benefit, but the cost of the hostel means I live on a tiny amount each week.

I miss my family a lot. I don't know how to contact them. If I had money, I would go - I hope to eventually find them. It was not good to come here; I should have stayed with them whatever was happening. Sending your children away is a disastrous idea. You should never send your children to places like this. There are social services, but it is full of empty promises. I go to see social workers weekly, monthly, and I am always dealing with different people who don't know me or anything about me. Life is very lonely.
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A Gap in their Hearts - the experience of separated Somali children
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