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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

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