Essak, Batulo Mohamed

Prominent Refugees, 12 April 1967

Batulo Mohamed Essak

Batulo Mohamed Essak found herself far from her sunny Somali home, resettled as a refugee in Lapland, yet she managed to adapt her life and skills to her new situation.

The daughter of a Somali diplomat, Essak finished school in Somalia and moved to Moscow to study nursing. When war broke out in her home country, she decided to flee to Finland. Arriving by boat in 1991, Essak was housed in the Lapinjrvi refugee camp, in the southern part of the country. There she learned Finnish so as to communicate with the local community, which stood her in good stead when she was resettled in the northern town of Kemi, in Lapland.

Initially it was not easy to adapt, and the language difficulty was only part of the problem. Essak had qualified as a midwife in Moscow, but her diploma was not valid in Finland. She decided to go back to studying to acquire Finnish qualifications. She was able to re-register as a midwife in 1995. From 1995 to 1998, she worked at the Woman's Clinic in Helsinki, where she had also done her practical training.

However, when her contract ended, Essak could not find a job in her chosen profession. So she used her language skills and began working as a freelance translator for Somalis arriving in Finland, helping them apply for unemployment and other benefits.

Essak feels she was lucky to have received an education in Somalia and in Russia. This brought her to work on a long-term project in adult education for Somali women. She provides information on health education, pregnancy, childbirth, post-natal care, women's diseases and mental health. She helps Somali women integrate in the Finnish community.

Essak has also held lectures in Finland about Somali culture. She currently works full time as a translator for Vantaa Region Community Centre, but hopes to return to work as a midwife, the job she loves.




UNHCR country pages

A Family of Somali Artists Continue to Create in Exile

During two decades of conflict and chaos in Somalia, Mohammed Ousman stayed in Mogadishu and taught art as others fled the country. But life became impossible after Al Shabaab militants killed his brother for continuing to practise art. Four of the man's nine children were also murdered. Mohammed closed his own "Picasso Art School" and married his brother's widow, in accordance with Somali custom. But without a job, the 57-year-old struggled to support two families and eventually this cost him his first family. Mohammed decided to leave, flying to Berbera in Somaliland in late 2011 and then crossing to Aw-Barre refugee camp in Ethiopia, where he joined his second wife and her five children. UNHCR transferred Mohammed and his family to Addis Ababa on protection grounds, and in the belief that he could make a living there from his art. But he's discovering that selling paintings and drawings can be tough - he relies on UNHCR support. The following images of the artist and his family were taken by UNHCR's Kisut Gebre Egziabher.

A Family of Somali Artists Continue to Create in Exile

Somalia's Hawa Aden Mohamed wins Nansen Refugee Award

Hawa Aden Mohamed, a former refugee whose visionary work has transformed the lives of thousands of displaced Somali women and girls, is the winner of the 2012 Nansen Refugee Award. Widely known as "Mama" Hawa, she is the founder and director of an ambitious education programme in Galkayo, Somalia, that helps women and girls secure their rights, develop vital skills and play a more active role in society. View a slideshow of Mama Hawa's work at the Galkayo Education Centre for Peace and Development, which offers literacy courses and vocational training as well as food and other forms of humanitarian relief to internally displaced people [IDP].

Somalia's Hawa Aden Mohamed wins Nansen Refugee Award

Photo Essay: Dollo Ado, a Year After the Somalia Famine

In mid-2011, Dollo Ado was at the heart of a refugee crisis as a wave of Somalis facing violence and starvation at home trekked through the desert to seek safety in the small, remote border town in eastern Ethiopia. Many arrived exhausted, sick and emaciated, often carrying weak or dying children.

To deal with the mass influx, UNHCR and the Ethiopian government built three new refugee camps. The agency and its partners also set up critical nutrition programmes in the camps. Large-scale water, sanitation and hygiene programmes, combined with mass vaccinations and other public health measures, saved numerous lives.

One year on, the malnutrition rates among children have begun to stabilize. The number of new arrivals, although steady due to continued violence and poor rains, has dwindled and many people have moved from tents into semi-permanent housing. UNHCR's main focus is to improve lives in the camp by launching livelihood programmes and environmental projects for refugees and the host communities.

Today, the Dollo Ado area hosts five camps, with a total population of nearly 170,000 refugees. Several hundred new refugees arrive from Somalia every week. While the population of the newest camp, Buramino, is reaching 30,000, UNHCR and the government have agreed on the location for a sixth camp.

Photo Essay: Dollo Ado, a Year After the Somalia Famine

Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In MogadishuPlay 


Somalia: UN High Commissioner For Refugees In Mogadishu

UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres visits Mogadishu, expresses solidarity with Somali people on eve of Ramadan.
Somalia: Solutions For Somali RefugeesPlay 


Somalia: Solutions For Somali Refugees

In Kenya, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, António Guterres discusses solutions for Somali refugees.
Somalia: Saving LivesPlay 


Somalia: Saving Lives

Donor support for a specialized maternity-child clinic helps save the lives of displaced Somali mothers.