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

N. Korea Sentences American to 6 Years Hard Labor

Matthew Miller's brief trial Sunday comes two weeks after 24-year old Miller and two other American detainees appealed to the US government to help free them More

Pakistan Rejects Afghan Criticism of 480-kilometer Border Trench

Military spokesman tells VOA the project is part of administrative and security measures taken to secure the mountainous border with Afghanistan More

Photogallery Typhoon Kalmaegi Makes Landfall in Philippines

Storm makes landfall late Sunday, cutting power and communications lines and forcing people to flee to higher ground More

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.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interesti
X
Henry Ridgwell
September 12, 2014 8:35 PM
The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Scotland Independence Bid Stokes Global Interest

The people of Scotland are preparing to vote on whether to become independent and break away from the rest of Britain, in a referendum being watched carefully in many other countries. Some see it as a risky experiment; while others hope a successful vote for independence might energize their own separatist demands. Foreign immigrants to Scotland have a front row seat for the vote. VOA’s Henry Ridgwell spoke to some of them in Edinburgh.
Video

Video Washington DC Mural Artists Help Beautify City

Like many cities, Washington has a graffiti problem. Buildings and homes, especially in low-income neighborhoods, are often targets of illegal artwork. But as we hear from VOA’s Julie Taboh, officials in the nation's capital have come up with an innovative program that uses the talents of local artists to beautify the city.
Video

Video Palestinians Turn to Rebuilding Gaza

After almost two months of conflict in Gaza, Palestinians are preparing to rebuild the isolated Mediterranean enclave with assistance from abroad. Meanwhile, an international human rights group has found that Israel likely violated international laws of war during some of its attacks on Gaza. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video US Muslim Leaders Condemn Islamic State

Leaders of America's Muslim community are condemning the violent extremism of the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria. The U.S. Muslim leaders say militants are exploiting their faith in a failed effort to justify violent extremism. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Middle Eastern Church Leaders Highlight Christians’ Plight

Patriarchs of Eastern Rite churches came to Washington this week to draw attention to the attacks against Christians in Syria, Iraq and elsewhere in the Middle East. VOA’s religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky has more.
Video

Video Americans' Reaction Mixed on Obama Strategy for Islamic State Militants

President Barack Obama’s televised speech on how the United States plans to “degrade and destroy” the group known as the Islamic State reached a prime-time audience of millions. And it came as Americans appear more willing to embrace a bolder, tougher approach to foreign policy. VOA producer Katherine Gypson and reporter Jeff Seldin have this report from Washington.
Video

Video Authorities Allege LA Fashion Industry-Cartel Ties

U.S. officials say they have broken up crime rings that funneled tens of millions of dollars from Mexican drug cartels through fashion businesses in Los Angeles. Mike O'Sullivan reports that authorities announced nine arrests, as 1,000 law enforcement agents fanned out through the city on Wednesday.
Video

Video Bedouin Woman Runs Successful Business in Palestinian City

A Bedouin woman is breaking social taboos by running a successful vacation resort in the Palestinian town of Jericho. Bedouins are a sub-group of Arabs known for their semi-nomadic lifestyle. Zlatica Hoke says the resort in the West Bank's Jordan Valley is a model of success for women in the region.


Carnage and mayhem are part of daily life in northern Nigeria, the result of a terror campaign by the Islamist group Boko Haram. Fears are growing that Nigeria’s government may not know how to counter it, and may be making things worse. More

AppleAndroid