News / Africa

    Stowaway’s Story Reflects Somalia’s Family Disintegration

    Ubah Mohamed Abdullahi, 33, right, sits with her son Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, 8, left, and daughter Neshad Yusuf Ahmed, 5, outside her hut in the Shedder refugee camp in far eastern Ethiopia.
    Ubah Mohamed Abdullahi, 33, right, sits with her son Abdullahi Yusuf Ahmed, 8, left, and daughter Neshad Yusuf Ahmed, 5, outside her hut in the Shedder refugee camp in far eastern Ethiopia.
    Mohamed Olad
    The story of a Somali-American teen stowaway who survived a freezing 5 1/2-hour flight from California to Hawaii while hidden in the wheel well of a jetliner has made news since shortly after his discovery April 20.

    But for the Somali communities in the diaspora, the teen's case is a reminder of huge challenges facing immigrant families ravaged by civil wars, poverty and unemployment. People in such situations are sometimes willing to take desperate, daring and calculated risks.

    What led 15-year-old Yahya Abdi to jump a fence at San Jose International Airport and stow away on the jetliner bound for Maui?

    According to unidentified law enforcement officials, the teen, who lived with his father, had argued with relatives and was trying to reach his mother in Somalia. In reality, she lives in an Ethiopian refugee camp that is home to about 10,200 displaced Somalis, a United Nations official told the Associated Press.

    In two separate VOA interviews, both parents mentioned that extreme homesickness might have prompted Yahya to attempt the dangerous trip.

    Abdullahi Yusuf, Yahya’s father, spoke to VOA's Somali service in an exclusive interview last week.

     “He was always talking about Africa, where his grandparents still live,” Abdullahi said. “... We all wanted to go back, but due to the security and living conditions there we could not go back.”

    Speaking to VOA Somalia Service from Sheed Dheer, the refugee camp, Ubah Mohamed Abdullahi said her son was homesick. She blamed the father for their son undertaking the dangerous journey.

    As she talked, the mother expressed shock. She said she burst into tears when she heard the news of her son’s trip and miraculous survival.

    “I felt bad that he risked his life,” she said. “I was told that he did this because of me.”

    More than 21 years of lawlessness and civil war have forced thousands of Somalis to leave the country. Most of them say either they would have been caught in the cross fire or starve to death if they had stayed at home.

    Abdinur Sheikh Mohamed, an education consultant with Ohio State University, said that the search for a better life abroad has disrupted some families.

    “The family structure was broken in general by the process of looking for a second home,” he said. “Refuges in general go through these difficulties in bringing all these families together.

    The U.S. has a reunification process for family members scattered across the world, but it takes a long time, he said.

    Hashi Shafi, executive director of the Minneapolis-based Somali Action Alliance, said the California teen’s story is only one example of many fractured Somali families.

    “I know a lot of  young kids in Minnesota who have been struggling with life lately," Shafi said, "and when you talk to some of them, they tell you that they are missing their mother whom they haven’t seen for 10 to 16 years.”

    Learning a new language and a new culture can be challenging.

    Abdi Salan Sharif Adam, who teaches English as a second language for Minneapolis Public Schools, said academics are difficult for many Somali children.

    “Some students will come to the school system having missed many years of schooling, and they start at an old age, a grade that is higher than their academic level,” he said. “There is always discrepancy between their educational ability and the levels they are placed.”

    Abdi Salan blamed family disintegration for some problems within the Somali-American community.

    “We do notice that many families do not have the entire family together,” Abdi Salan said.

    Uncertain identity complicates things. Abdi Salan said students wonder, "Who am I? Am I Somali? Am I Muslim? Am I American? All These questions are not clear to many of the students and they guess and take different conflicting messages.” 

    Huge numbers of young African immigrants, among them significant portion of Somalis, risk their lives in search of a better life in Europe and U.S.
    But for many of them, reality turned out to be far removed from their hopes.

    Sa’id Gure took a long, perilous journey from Somalia through the Middle East, Eastern Europe and Mexico before reaching the United States. The 20-year-old said he misses his parents and siblings.

    "I believe that one of life's greatest risks is never daring to risk,” he said. “But when you constantly feel homesick and all your loved ones are not around you, I do not know how a young person can control his feelings. I think missing your family is a pain that can lead one to risk his life."

    You May Like

    Escalation of Media Crackdown in Turkey Heightens Concerns

    Critics see 'a new dark age' as arrests of journalists, closures of media outlets by Erdogan government mount

    Russia Boasts of Troop Buildup on Flank, Draws Flak

    Russian military moves counter to efforts to de-escalate tensions, State Department says

    What Take-out Food Reveals About American History

    From fast-food restaurants to pizza delivery, here's what the history of take-out food tells us about changes in American society

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Nur from: Ali
    April 30, 2014 8:05 AM
    It takes a powerful feeling that none of us can imagine to risk your life like this young boy did. This 15 year old obviously misses his mother coupled with probably teenage issues, a step mother who can be annoying and a father who married another woman while his children's mother is living a dire life in a refugee camp. All these things can be so powerful that it may drive a person crazy especially when there is no way to run or someone visible to talk to.

    I feel sorry for him and saddened by what happened to him. I hope if there are people with heart that one day soon they will bring his mother to America to be with her son. I mean it makes no sense to keep a mother from her child and let her live in a refugee camp. It will not cost that much to bring a mother to her son. Respect this kid because he just showed us the love he has for his mother is so powerful that death seemed nothing.

    by: Lynn Cee from: Silicon Valley
    April 30, 2014 1:23 AM
    Yahya needs counseling. Surely somewhere in affluent Santa Clara County there are some behavioral health services for 15-year-old Yahya. And some kind-hearted souls who can easily raise the modest funds needed to help Yahya visit his mother. A roundtrip ticket from San Francisco to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, is about $2,000.
    Yahya is lucky to be alive. And he is suffering.

    by: Sahra from: Seattle
    April 29, 2014 1:38 PM
    I don't necessarily agree with this outtake. The boy has left Africa when he was 8, I doubt that he's all of a sudden missing to be back home at the age of 16. What drove him to that extent was broken family life, divorce and the psychological damage of it. Clearly taking an 8 year old away from his mom and abruptly ending any kind of communication or connection they've had, is damaging enough. Coupled with lying to the child that his mother has suddenly died, adds on to that mental anguish. And having that child find out his mother is indeed a live and has been all this time......is devastating! So don't blame the refugee status cuz that has nothing to do with this case. Blame family disfunction, divorce and bad parenting.
    In Response

    by: Ali Mohamed from: Seattle
    April 30, 2014 2:13 AM
    I concur with Sahra wholeheartedly. Somalis don't have a word for "depression" and many other mental illnesses. We suffer in silence, and hope tomorrow will be better. Sadly, in the last 24 years, things have gotten worse, and to some, like the desperate teenager who risked his life in order to reconnect with his mother, life is not worth living without your loved ones.
    Many Somalis have become accustomed to being risk takers, while many more have perished along the way. May our tomorrow be better than today.

    By the Numbers

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Processi
    X
    Katherine Gypson
    July 27, 2016 6:21 PM
    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video Immigrant Delegate Marvels at Democratic Process

    It’s been a bitter and divisive election season – but first time Indian-American delegate Dr. Shashi Gupta headed to the Democratic National Convention with a sense of hope. VOA’s Katherine Gypson followed this immigrant with the love of U.S. politics all the way to Philadelphia.
    Video

    Video A Life of Fighting Back: Hillary Clinton Shatters Glass Ceiling

    Hillary Clinton made history Thursday, overcoming personal and political setbacks to become the first woman to win the presidential nomination of a major U.S. political party. If she wins in November, she will go from “first lady” to U.S. Senator from New York, to Secretary of State, to “Madam President.” Polls show Clinton is both beloved and despised. White House Correspondent Cindy Saine takes a look at the life of the woman both supporters and detractors agree is a fighter for the ages.
    Video

    Video Dutch Entrepreneurs Turn Rainwater Into Beer

    June has been recorded as one of the wettest months in more than a century in many parts of Europe. To a group of entrepreneurs in Amsterdam the rain came as a blessing, as they used the extra water to brew beer. Serginho Roosblad has more to the story.
    Video

    Video First Time Delegate’s First Day Frustrations

    With thousands of people filling the streets of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, VOA’s Kane Farabaugh narrowed in on one delegate as she made her first trip to a national party convention. It was a day that was anything but routine for this United States military veteran.
    Video

    Video Commerce Thrives on US-Mexico Border

    At the Democratic Convention in Philadelphia this week, the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, Hillary Clinton, is expected to attack proposals made by her opponent, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump, to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border. Last Friday, President Barack Obama hosted his Mexican counterpart, President Enrique Peña Nieto, to underscore the good relations between the two countries. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Tucson.
    Video

    Video Film Helps Save Ethiopian Children Thought to be Cursed

    'Omo Child' looks at effort of African man to stop killings of ‘mingi’ children
    Video

    Video London’s Financial Crown at Risk as Rivals Eye Brexit Opportunities

    By most measures, London rivals New York as the only true global financial center. But Britain’s vote to leave the European Union – so-called ‘Brexit’ – means the city could lose its right to sell services tariff-free across the bloc, risking its position as Europe’s financial headquarters. Already some banks have said they may shift operations to the mainland. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.
    Video

    Video Recycling Lifeline for Lebanon’s Last Glassblowers

    In a small Lebanese coastal town, one family is preserving a craft that stretches back millennia. The art of glass blowing was developed by Phoenicians in the region, and the Khalifehs say they are the only ones keeping the skill alive in Lebanon. But despite teaming up with an eco-entrepreneur and receiving an unexpected boost from the country’s recent trash crisis the future remains uncertain. John Owens reports from Sarafand.
    Video

    Video Migrants Continue to Risk Lives Crossing US Border from Mexico

    In his speech Thursday before the Republican National Convention, the party’s presidential candidate, Donald Trump, reiterated his proposal to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border if elected. Polls show a large percentage of Americans support better control of the nation's southwestern border, but as VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from the border town of Nogales in the Mexican state of Sonora, the situation faced by people trying to cross the border is already daunting.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Calm the Waters: US Doubles Down Diplomatic Efforts in ASEAN Meetings

    The United States is redoubling diplomatic efforts and looking to upcoming regional meetings to calm the waters after an international tribunal invalidated the legal basis of Beijing's extensive claims in the South China Sea. VOA State Department correspondent Nike Ching has the story.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora