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Hope wins out as Somali refugee heads to Salt Lake City for a new life

News Stories, 9 September 2011

Muhioadin Ahmed Aden and his son Abdi, who were due to be resettled today.

DADAAB, Kenya, Sept 9 (UNHCR) Muhioadin Ahmed Aden stares out at the horizon, knowing that the second most important journey of his life will begin today. A struggle within his heart, between despair and a desperate enduring hope, has finally come to a conclusion.

His family sits by his side. His youngest son, Abdi Salim, holds his hand. Salim thinks about the six-year-old's future; the school he will attend, the life he will lead. Hope has won.

Like thousands of other Somalis over the years at Kenya's sprawling, crowded Dadaab refugee complex, Aden has been accepted for resettlement. Today, he travels to Nairobi and in a few days time he will touch down at Salt Lake City in the United States.

"It will be a different life and I think it will be better than this one," he said as he waited to leave. "I look forward to having my children educated. I will live in a house or an apartment, not under plastic sheeting and wooden poles like I have [done] for so long."

At the same time, the 45-year-old pictures the tens of thousands of refugees arriving at Dadaab's Ifo camp just as he did in 1991, when the longer civil strife in Somalia erupted. He sees their beleaguered faces, their confused glances. The faces transport him back to the day when he too was forced to flee Somalia.

His father and two brothers were killed in inter-clan conflict near the southern Somalia town of Kismayu. "I see my past in these people. We were just walking and walking," he said. "I had no idea when I arrived in Kenya that I would live in a refugee camp for the next 20 years."

Aden knows the difficulties the newcomers will face. It was so difficult for him during the first few years. A nomad and a herder in peacetime Somalia, Aden was not accustomed to eating the wheat flower and grains that are distributed in the camps.

During the first few months at Dadaab, it was hard to trust strangers. And even though he was grateful to be out of reach of those who destroyed his family, he still worried for his own security.

Over time, life improved. But it was difficult for him to find work in the camps. It took years before he managed to make his living driving a donkey cart, carrying sand and construction poles for 500 Kenyan Schillings (US$5.3) per day.

He knows he has a lot of learning to do in order to make up for those lost years.

"Do you think in America I can be a taxi driver?" he asked. "It's something I will have to learn." Now, he faces a whole new set of challenges.





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UNHCR has been trying to find solutions for these people, most of whom ended up in the Choucha Transit Camp near Tunisia's border with Libya. Resettlement remains the most viable solution for those registered as refugees at Choucha before a cut-off date of December 1, 2011.

As of late April, 14 countries had accepted 2,349 refugees for resettlement, 1,331 of whom have since left Tunisia. The rest are expected to leave Choucha later this year. Most have gone to Australia, Norway and the United States. But there are a more than 2,600 refugees and almost 140 asylum-seekers still in the camp. UNHCR continues to advocate with resettlement countries to find solutions for them.

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Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

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As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.


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