From Mogadishu to Budapest: A refugee's journey to EU citizenship

News Stories, 10 July 2008

© Europress/Éva Pásztor
Samira goes shopping for clothes in her new homeland.

BUDAPEST, Hungary, July 10 (UNHCR) Samira Németh is adjusting remarkably well in Hungary, considering the trauma and hardship the 18-year-old endured in her native Somalia before reaching Budapest.

The young woman has also discovered a whole new set of relatives since being resettled last month with UNHCR help in the land of her father, a Hungarian national who made a life for himself in Somalia until his murder by gunmen in Mogadishu in 2005.

And there is more good news on the horizon; the rest of her family mother Herera and four siblings in Somalia and a brother in Kenya may be allowed to join Samira and her long-lost brother Sandor in Hungary.

Somalia has been a volatile country ever since the overthrow of the Siad Barre regime in 1991, but Samira never thought of leaving until the death of her father, Lajos Németh, and three of his other children in the 2005 attack.

And even then, she decided to hang on in Mogadishu even as the security situation deteriorated in the Somali capital in 2006 and 2007, causing tens of thousands to flee in the hope that her surviving relatives, who fled after the killings, would return.

"I never gave up hope that I would see my sisters and brothers and my mother again," recalled Samira, who continued going to school and was taken care of by a neighbour. "But finally, my caretaker told me my only option to stay alive was to flee to Kenya and seek asylum in Dadaab."

In January, she took the advice and crossed the border into north-east Kenya, where she found shelter as a refugee in the sprawling Dadaab camps, home to some 190,000 Somali refugees. But her problems were not over.

Samira found herself facing unwelcome attention from a much older Somalia man, who wanted to marry her so that he could get to Europe. Her mixed blood also caused problems in Dadaab.

"My skin is much lighter and I have always looked different. I have always been mocked by other children, but I could cope with it as long as I had my family by my side," she said, adding: "In Dadaab, I decided not to go to school to avoid the curious eyes of other people."

But this, ironically, worked in her favour because a UNHCR worker noticed her absence from class and went to talk to her. Her story soon came out and UNHCR, armed with documentary proof of Samira's ancestry, contacted the Hungarian authorities.

Her case was rushed through the system and on June 18, with help from UNHCR and non-governmental organization Hungarian Baptist Aid, she arrived in Budapest from Nairobi on her new Hungarian passport. There were a couple of surprises in store.

The Hungarians had discovered that her older brother Sándor, who had disappeared from her life years earlier, was living in Hungary, while Samira's paternal aunt and uncle were alive and living in a village near the southern city of Pécs.

Sándor had reached Hungary a few months earlier with a group of Somali asylum seekers and was living in a refugee reception centre. He was soon reunited with the sister he had not seen in seven years, while their aunt and uncle agreed to provide them with a new home.

Samira's finally getting to do the kinds of things that young people her age take for granted in many countries around the world, like going shopping without unescorted and without fear of attack.

And soon she may have even more reason to rejoice. Another lost brother, Bela, has surfaced in Dadaab recently, while her mother has been contacted by telephone living near Mogadishu with her four youngest children.

"UNHCR is helping the Hungarian and Kenyan authorities to find out about the intentions and possibilities of the Németh family members in Kenya and Somalia," revealed Lloyd Dakin, UNHCR's Budapest-based regional representative. "If everything goes well, Budapest might greet six new Hungarian citizens soon."

Samira, meanwhile, is basking in the love and attention of new relatives. "When I left Somalia, I did not even have hope that I would stay alive or see any of my family members again. And now, here I am in Hungary, together with my brother, my aunt, uncle and cousins. I feel like I have got my lost life back."

She will never be able to bring back her father and her three slain siblings, but a least she now has a life to look forward to.

By Andrea Szobolits in Budapest, Hungary

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UNHCR country pages

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Every year thousands of people in the Horn of Africa - mainly Somalis and Ethiopians - leave their homes out of fear or pure despair, in search of safety or a better life. They make their way over dangerous Somali roads to Bossaso in the northern semi-autonomous region of Puntland.

In this lawless area, smuggler networks have free reign and innocent and desperate civilians pay up to US$150 to make the perilous trip across the Gulf of Aden.

Some stay weeks on end in safe houses or temporary homes in Bossaso before they can depart. A sudden call and a departure in the middle of the night, crammed in small unstable boats. At sea, anything can happen to them - they are at the whim of smugglers. Some people get beaten, stabbed, killed and thrown overboard. Others drown before arriving on the beaches of Yemen, which have become the burial ground for hundreds who many of those who died en route.

Crossing the Gulf of Aden

Somalia/Ethiopia

In February 2005, one of the last groups of Somalilander refugees to leave Aisha refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia boarded a UNHCR convoy and headed home to Harrirad in North-west Somalia - the self-declared independent state of Somaliland. Two years ago Harrirad was a tiny, sleepy village with only 67 buildings, but today more than 1,000 people live there, nearly all of whom are former refugees rebuilding their lives.

As the refugees flow back into Somalia, UNHCR plans to close Aisha camp by the middle of the year. The few remaining refugees in Aisha - who come from southern Somalia - will most likely be moved to the last eastern camp, Kebribeyah, already home to more than 10,000 refugees who cannot go home to Mogadishu and other areas in southern Somalia because of continuing lawlessness there. So far refugees have been returning to only two areas of the country - Somaliland and Puntland in the north-east.

Somalia/Ethiopia

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

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