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Driven from Somalia, a former refugee thanks Australia for his new life

Telling the Human Story, 24 August 2012

© A.Dini
Dini, in front of players on the team he formed in Australia, is grateful for his new life after being resettled from a refugee camp in Kenya.

GENEVA, 24 August (UNHCR) Ahmed Dini was only three-years-old when his mother carried him from the violence of Somalia to the safety of a refugee camp in Kenya. Years in refugee camps that seemed without hope lay ahead.

But when Dini fulfils his goal to revisit his homeland, he will be carrying an Australian passport and speaking English with an Aussie accent. He is a demonstration of successful resettlement.

"We did not have a choice of country to go to. But thank God, whoever decided for us to go to Australia was probably a good person," Dini said while attending the Annual Tripartite Consultations on Resettlement in Geneva as part of the Australian delegation.

"If I was given the chance to choose today where I wanted to go, I would definitely be saying Australia."

Three years after Dini was born in 1987 in Mogadishu, his country dissolved into civil war; some of his earliest memories are of hearing gunfire and watching militiamen on the roads. His father, who owned pharmacies, and his mother made the decision to flee to neighbouring Kenya.

"I think for my mother, it was one of the hardest decisions of her life to leave," said Dini, who was carried by her for more than 100 km to the border. "Most of her happy times were in Mogadishu; nonetheless I think when you are a parent your children come first and she thought only of the safety of her children."

The family spent a year at Liboi Refugee Camp before being moved further from the danger of the border to Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp. Refugee camps provide a shelter from the threats that turn people into refugees, but they can be dispiriting places where hope drains away.

"When we were in the refugee camp in Kenya, every morning when I looked at my mom's face, it was one of sadness and sorrow. You could tell she was longing for home and she really did not like what was going on." For five years, they waited for word of resettlement.

"We went to Nairobi to get medical checks, which we passed, and even after that we waited for another eight months to get to Australia. There were stories of families who waited so long and ultimately were rejected," Dini said. "There were moments when we honestly thought we would never make it."

"Then we were finally called back to Nairobi for our flight. This is one of the first times I really saw my mom smile because she knew she had a new life to look forward to. She knew her kids would now be able to get educated and live a life different to hers."

After arriving in Australia in 1996, Dini faced the challenges of learning the language, going to school and adjusting to new communities.

"It was quite difficult when you don't understand the language. As a young kid, you put the entire burden on your parents thinking they will correct everything, but even they didn't know the language. Coming from a society that has no institutions, and no structure, and moving to another which is built on institutions and structures entails massive changes in our lives."

He feels he missed the chance to play sports as a teenager but made up for it by creating a football team called United FCA that he hopes will inspire future generations.

"United FC has some of the best African players in Australia. For two years we have been coming to play in Spain," said Dini, who manages the team and is also president of the Somali-Australian Football Association.

Dini, grateful for the chance he received, is anxious to pass on advice to both refugees and countries that could take them for resettlement. For refugees, the message is to work hard and take advantage of the chance for a new life. For governments, the message is to give refugees the chance that Australia gave him.

"These people are humans and need to be given that opportunity. Once they become sounds citizens, they will love their new countries even more than their origin countries. They bring a new culture and a new way of life to you," he said.

By Laith Kabaa in Geneva




UNHCR country pages


An alternative for those who cannot go home, made possible by UNHCR and governments.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

Between February and October 2011, more than 1 million people crossed into Tunisia to escape conflict in Libya. Most were migrant workers who made their way home or were repatriated, but the arrivals included refugees and asylum-seekers who could not return home or live freely in Tunisia.

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.

Resettlement from Tunisia's Choucha Camp

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.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden


In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

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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