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American dream back on track, so far, for Somali refugees

By AFP

Added 12th February 2017 07:42 AM

According to US State Department statistics, nearly 11,000 Somali refugees entered the country in 2016.

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For a 26-year-old Somali refugee, it's just one more night, "that's what I told my children this morning," said Fatuma Saturday at a transit centre in the Kenyan capital Nairobi.

With her bags nearly packed, she can already see the blue and white bus that will take her and her children to the airport for the flight, at last, to their new home in the United States.

"This time, it's for good," said Fatuma, with a note of caution.

But "after what happened last time, I don't want to be happy too quickly. I will always think that it can go wrong until I arrive ... in the United States," she said.

Just two weeks ago Fatuma, who did not want to give her full name, was excited about her imminent departure for Colorado to join a cousin there.

But her dreams were crushed by US President Donald Trump's controversial temporary travel ban targeting seven mostly Muslim countries, including her homeland Somalia, and the general freeze on accepting refugees.

Fatuma had recently obtained asylum in the US, a procedure she started in 2008.

"And just before we were to take the plane, we were told the president signed a paper that destroyed our hopes," she said.

Trump's decree meant she and the children had to return to the Dadaab refugee camp, the world's largest, in eastern Kenya where she had lived since she was two years old.

"I grew up there, I went to school, I married and I gave birth in Dadaab, and now it's good my children won't live in a refugee camp," she said after her plans were revived following US court rulings that have suspended Trump's travel and refugee ban.

For a second time Fatuma and her children left the Dadaab camp of 250,000 refugees, which opened in 1992 to welcome Somalis fleeing civil war and later drought and jihadist attacks in their country.

- 'Best land of freedom' -

At the Nairobi transit centre, between a final medical check-up and a crash course in American culture, Fatuma in a black hijab with henna-stained fingers spoke about her Muslim faith.

She said she was aware of the political upheaval triggered by Trump's election win but she remains confident.

"Donald Trump is president but it's good that he is not the only one who can decide things, like the court showed on Thursday," she said.

"And I am sure there are a lot of tolerant people who are ready to welcome us."

According to US State Department statistics, nearly 11,000 Somali refugees entered the country in 2016.

"Here in Kenya, Christians and Muslims live together with no problem, so why will my hijab be a problem in the best land of freedom?" she asks.

- Living in uncertainty -

Another Somali refugee, Abdilkadir Badel Hamshi, 25, also had his US dream delayed.

"If it's God's will," he said at the transit centre he will leave Sunday for Kentucky in the southern US.

"I have no idea what it looks like, I have never seen a picture. All I have seen is a map on the screen of a (mobile) phone."

Born in Baidoa in southwest Somalia, he fled with his family as a year-old infant and would never consider going back.

"If we go back, we (get) killed. The Shabaab scare me a lot," he said, referring to the Al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants waging an insurgency in Somalia.

"But that's not important, what is important is that we are not living in a refugee camp anymore," said the young man, who dreams of studying medicine in the US.

"I am happy I am leaving tomorrow, because you don't know, maybe (the situation) changes quickly," he said, adding that he feared refugees might be stopped from flying once again.

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