Fleeing from your family: Fatima’s story

11-year-old Fatima awoke one night to the sound of deafening explosions in her village in Somalia. Violence and crime from the ongoing civil war in her country was spreading. Fearing for her life and unable to find her family, she followed her neighbors on foot to a Kenyan refugee camp.

By the time Fatima was sixteen, she was pregnant with her first child and had found a job washing clothes to support her daughter. A few years later, Fatima became pregnant with a second daughter.

Following the birth of her second child, Fatima’s parents–still in Somalia–learned of Fatima’s whereabouts. Because her children were multiracial and Fatima had never married, her family believed her to be a deep shame to their community’s values.

“I started to feel unsafe in Kenya. My family said, ‘there’s only a small border between us and we will find you. You have brought too much shame into this world to continue living.’”

From Kenya, Fatima fled with her children to Thailand. She went to UNHCR and was able to find housing for her and her children. She noticed a sizable Somali population around her and tried to reach out, but Fatima was greeted with hostility.

“The Somali women hated me. They saw my children, they hated my daughters. People in the community all knew my story and would call my kids ‘bastard children.’”

One day, the Thai police showed up at Fatima’s building and arrested her and her children on the grounds of being illegal migrants in the country. Others in the Somali community had intentionally not warned Fatima that the police were scheduled to make a visit.

Fatima and her daughters spent the next year living under the harsh conditions of the Thai detention centers. Like in her previous community, Somali women in the detention centers banded together to gossip about Fatima.

“At nights, they bullied and beat me. During the day, they would hit my daughters for running or playing.”

Fatima’s youngest daughter became very ill, in part because of the unsanitary conditions they were living in. Without access to medical care, Fatima’s daughter was suffering.

Asylum Access intervened to fast-track Fatima’s case through UNHCR, due to the health concerns of Fatima’s child, and secured approval for their resettlement in the US. After her flights were booked, however, the travel ban had just come down from the Trump Administration. Because the ban blocked Somali refugees, Fatima and her children were stuck in a fearful limbo.

Fortunately, as soon as the first travel ban was overturned, Fatima and her children arrived safely to the US. While there are still challenges to assimilating to a new country, Fatima no longer feels afraid for her life. She’s now able to access medical care for her sick daughter, can afford medicine to ease her child’s pain and is actively working towards building a better life for her family.

Written by Communications Coordinator Gayatri Ganapathy