shattered dreams of Refugees
By Hassan Isilow
CAPETOWN-Getting a better life has always been high on the list of priorities for 19 year-old, Cabdullaahi Xaaji Gaan, a Somali national . But he could not attain his dreams of having a better life in war ravaged Somalia. In February 2008, he embarked on a journey of hope to South Africa. He knew that when he got here, he would have to work hard to better his life and that of the family he left behind in Somalia.
After trekking south for nearly two months, the teenager arrived in South Africa in April 2008 and went straight to East London where most of his friends lived. He started working in a spaza shop. He thought that he had made a good start on his dreams when calamity struck. Five months after his arrival, robbers attacked his shop and shot him in the abdomen. One of the bullets remained stuck in his back, causing partial paralysis.
Xaaji was hospitalised for months. He lost income and depended on the generosity of the Somali community in East London for survival. More than that, it took him several months to learn how to walk with clutches. “I left my country because of the civil war. I thought I would have peace in South Africa and better my life. Unfortunately, I have now been maimed in this country,” he said as tears filled his eyes.
Since then Xaaji left East London and now lives in a Somali owned backpackers in Bellville, near Cape Town. “Life is very difficult when you’re not working, because food and accommodation is costly. I also feel a lot pain in my back, because the bullet is still in my back,” he related, adding that with the onset of winter, the cold increases the level of pain.
In the interim, Xaaji has been interviewed on several occasions by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) and is now waiting for their decision. “I can’t go back to Somalia because of the war there and I can not continue to live in this country with my current health condition. I have no family in this country, besides I am much traumatised (than when I first came here). Whenever I remember what happened to me I feel disturbed. All I pray for is for the UNHCR to help resettle me to a peaceful country where I can have a better life,” he said.
But Xaaji is not the only one whose dreams were shattered upon arrival in South AFrica. 25-year-old Mahiya Mohamed Ahmed fled his Somali homeland for South Africa in 2009, also in search of safety and a better life, but has since found none. A year ago he was shot by robbers while at his shop in Mufuleni township and he still feels the consequences.
“My right leg was fractured after being shot. The robbers also swept my shop clean. They took everything. Since the robbers cleaned me out, I have been staying with friends and relatives who run tuck shops in the townships. I depend on them for entirely everything,” he related.
It is a bitter realisation for Ahmed who said he came to this country with a dream of creating a better future for himself and his family. This dream now lies in tatters. “I have a wife, a 6 year-old daughter, and several brothers and sisters back home in Somalia. They want me to send them money, but currently I have northing to give them,” he said.
The robbery has also left him traumatised. “I have been living in constant fear, ever since I was shot,” he confided. And he is not alone in his trauma. Many foreigners who came to South Africa as refugees, mainly Somalis, have subsequently become the victims of crime or xenophobia and have called upon the UNHCR to help resettle them to a third country.