'If my cousin watched this show, she would have possibly saved herself'
Telling the Real Story is a talk show that creates awareness on 'tahriib' – the perilous sea crossings that young Somalis often take to pursue better lives.
When the first episodes of Telling the Real Story, Somali Talks: Stories about Tahriib aired in Somalia, Khadra and her family had just received devastating news of the death of her cousin Ifrah, who drowned at sea while crossing from Turkey to Greece.
“I didn’t realize it would be the last time I would hear her voice,” says Khadra, who spoke to Ifrah last December before she embarked on what should have been a short sea crossing.
Khadra and Ifrah were so close, one would have imagined they were siblings.
“We were best friends,” Khadra adds.
She explains that they had different aspirations – she wanted to further her education while Ifrah desired to start a family.
By the age of 26, Ifrah had been married twice and divorced both times because she was unable to conceive. Consumed with shame and feeling like she had failed as a woman, she yearned to leave the small town where everybody knew each other.
“She felt like the spotlight was on her, that everybody knew she was barren and nobody would want to marry her,” says Khadra.
“I didn’t realize it would be the last time I would hear her voice.”
She confided in Khadra about her plans to ‘go on tahriib’ to Europe. Khadra had heard of the dangers of irregular travel and the deaths at sea and discouraged her from making the journey. Instead, they agreed that Ifrah would go to Turkey by flight and Khadra would join her to further her education. For Ifrah, it would be an opportunity to get away and start a new life.
Once Ifrah was in Turkey, Khadra applied for a visa to join her but unfortunately, her application was denied.
“I was devasted. I called Ifrah and she reassured me that I could try again in a few months,” says Khadra.
She explains how Ifrah later told her about her encounter with a young man who told her he could help her get to Europe. Before their interaction, Ifrah had not had any desire to move to Europe – at least not without Khadra.
The young man repeatedly reassured her that the journey would be safe and told her that he had helped many other Somalis like herself get to Greece safely. He even provided her with a lifejacket to further reassure her.
Khadra adds that Ifrah told her that it would be best for her to travel to Turkey soon.
“She said I would have someone to welcome me once I arrived,” recalls Khadra when Ifrah made the decision to take the sea journey, hopeful of the day that Khadra would join her in Europe.
On the fateful day, Khadra spoke to her cousin and wished her a safe journey. She also told her that she would be waiting for her next call. After some time, news reached them that 32 people had been rescued at sea by Greek lifeguards. The rubber boat they had travelled in sunk close to the Greek coast and by the time the travellers were picked up, two people had already drowned.
“We all panicked. We didn’t know if Ifrah was okay,” says Khadra.
Ifrah had shared the smuggler’s number with Khadra, so they called him immediately.
“He said that Ifrah was fine, her phone was off, but she would call once she reached her next destination,” she adds.
But worry and unease continued gnawing at them.
Khadra called everyone she knew in Turkey to see if they had heard anything, to no avail.
“Time went by so slowly. I prayed for her as much as I could,” she says tearfully.
It took two days for the devastating news to reach them – the two people who had drowned were identified as Ifrah and another Somali girl.
“We couldn’t believe it at first,” says Khadra, adding that they tracked down a young man who had left Somalia with Ifrah and was on the same boat with her and confirmed the terrible news.
“...this project raises awareness on such an important issue.”
The family tried to have her body sent to Turkey for burial as they had some relatives there but unfortunately, this was not possible. Eventually, Ifrah was buried in Greece.
The memory of her loss is still fresh in her mind, so after watching an episode of the talk show on TV, Khadra reached out to the talk show’s host, Ifrah Ahmed, who is also a High Profile Supporter of UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency.
“I told her about my grief, but I also wanted to thank her for all the hard work that she is doing through this project that raises awareness on such an important issue,” she says.
By the end of April, over 1,000 refugees and asylum seekers had arrived in Greece by sea this year, nearly 300 of them being Somalis like Ifrah.
“If my cousin had watched the show, she would have reconsidered taking such a journey and possibly saved herself,” says Khadra.