From Dadaab to Budapest: A Refugee Girl’s Journey to EU Citizenship

Monday 7, July 2008 Looking for new clothes in the shops of Budapest, Samira Németh (18) looks like any other teenager. She can hardly believe her change of circumstances. Samira is now a Hungarian citizen, reunited with her brother and the many relatives she did not even know she had. […]

Monday 7, July 2008

Looking for new clothes in the shops of Budapest, Samira Németh (18) looks like any other teenager.

She can hardly believe her change of circumstances. Samira is now a Hungarian citizen, reunited with her brother and the many relatives she did not even know she had. Only six months ago she was a Somali refugee girl who had to flee to Kenya with nothing but her clothes.

She spent five months without her family members in Dadaab, one of Kenya’s largest refugee camps hosting 170,000 persons. She reported to UNHCR that her father, Lajos Németh was a Hungarian citizen who had lived in Somalia until his death in the war in 2005. Luckily, Samira could prove this with several documents from her deceased father. UNHCR then set in motion a process to determine whether or not she was also entitled to Hungarian citizenship. In the end, the Hungarian authorities issued a national passport to her with which she could travel from Kenya to Hungary.

Bringing Samira to Budapest became urgent when UNHCR learned that the girl was facing an unwanted marriage. She was under pressure by a much older man who hoped that by marrying her, he could get to Europe legally. Very rapidly, Samira’s trip from Kenya to Hungary was organised and funded by the Hungarian Baptist Aid, whose Goodwill Ambassador, Tvrtko Vujity, a renowned TV reporter in Hungary, personally travelled to Nairobi to accompany Samira on the plane to Europe.

Long Lost Brother Found in Budapest

Once in Hungary, Samira was notified by the local authorities that her long lost brother, Sándor (19) had reached Hungary separately with a group of Somali asylum-seekers a few months before and was living in one of Hungary’s refugee reception centres.

In Budapest, where Samira was temporarily accommodated upon her return, the two teenagers were reunited after seven years apart. The Hungarian Baptist Aid also helped them to contact the brother and sister of their deceased father who had been eagerly waiting to see their niece and nephew from Africa and offered to host the siblings.

Trying to forget the war in Somalia and her flight as a refugee to neighbouring Kenya, Samira is now living with her Hungarian family, adapting to her new environment in a small village near the city of Pécs, in the south of Hungary.

Due to the international attention directed towards their case in Kenya and in Hungary, another lost brother, Béla, has been found recently in Dadaab. Amazingly, their mother, Herera has also been contacted by telephone near Mogadishu, living with her four youngest children. Samira and Sándor are now excitedly waiting for their mother and five other siblings to join them from Africa in hopes to reunite the entire family later this year.

Samira rejoices over her family’s reunion. “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.”

Rescued and Resettled in a Matter of Weeks

Samira’s family was torn apart in 2005 when she survived a deadly attack on her home, resulting in the death of her father and three siblings and the disappearance of her mother with the four youngest children. Her life was saved only because she was attending school when the gunmen struck.

Samira decided to wait for the return of her surviving family members in her abandoned home. During the three years of waiting, she continued going to school and was taken care of by a neighbour. “I never gave up hope that I would see my sisters and brothers and my mother again.” – she says. “But finally, my caretaker told me my only option to stay alive was to flee to Kenya and seek asylum in Dadaab, so one night in January this year, I left everything behind and ran.”

Although she received protection and assistance from UNHCR, the fragile eighteen year old girl had to take care of herself without her family members among 170,000 refugees in Dadaab. Her looks caused further problems. “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. In Dadaab, I decided not to go to school to avoid the curious eyes of other people.” – she explains.

This disadvantage later on proved to bring luck to Samira when a UNHCR worker noticed her absence from school and came to see the girl. Things started to evolve rapidly. UNHCR learned that Samira had a Hungarian father and probably Hungarian citizenship too.

Based on her late father’s documents, the Hungarian citizenship of Somali-Hungarian Samira was confirmed in Budapest, and the Hungarian authorities requested the help of the Hungarian Baptist Aid to organise the swift repatriation of the girl to the country of her father where she had never been before.

Within a few weeks, Samira found herself on a UN airplane taking her to Nairobi where at the Hungarian Embassy she received her travel documents enabling her to fly to Europe.

More Family Members May Arrive Soon

As far as UNHCR is concerned, the story of Samira and Sándor could not have ended more happily. The two teenagers have been officially recognized by the Republic of Hungary as citizens and they have been provided with all the necessary identity documents.

“UNHCR is now helping the Hungarian and Kenyan authorities to find out about the intentions and possibilities of the members of the Németh family in Kenya and Somalia. If everything goes well, Budapest might greet six new Hungarian citizens soon” – says UNHCR’s Regional Representative, Lloyd Dakin.

Written by: Andrea Szobolits (ed. by Melita H. Sunjic)

UNHCR Budapest