The Never-Ending Journey
By T. Craig Murphy, IOM-Kenya and Dayib Askar, IOM-Somalia
Fathia Mubarik is a 21 year-old Somali refugee who was born in Hargeisa, Somaliland. In 2012, she was granted prima-facie refugee status in Yemen as a Somali national. At the end of May 2015, Fathia decided to escape from Yemen and return to the country she fled. She was single when she left Hargeisa two years ago. She returned with a disabled daughter and having lost contact with her husband, a Yemeni national who disappeared at the start of the Yemen Crisis in late March 2015.
Fathia and her daughter have arrived safely back in Hargeisa and rejoined other family members, but her situation is precarious: she is caught between the conflict in Yemen, without a means to support herself back home.
Back in 2012, Fathia had not fled from Hargeisa due to the typical categories of persecution. Rather, lacking any prospects for employment or improving her life, she had opted to try elsewhere, following the route of thousands of other Somali nationals in mixed migration flows to Yemen. She escaped from an absence of economic opportunity and risked all that she had to seek reprieve from her difficult life in Hargeisa.
She says, “There was nothing for me in Hargeisa. I had to try something else.”
Now that Fathia is back, she has traded one set of problems – the war and insecurity in Yemen with another: trying to survive in Hargeisa with limited education, no skills and a disabled daughter.
Two years ago, when Fathia left Somaliland she entered Djibouti and continued to the coastal village of Obock, where there are well-established networks of smugglers that transfer migrants and refugees by boat across the Red Sea to Yemen, which is only 30 kilometers away. In 2012, the year that Fathia fled, 107,000 registered migrants and refugees from the Horn of Africa arrived in Yemen.
She reached Yemen on a smuggler’s boat that embarked from Obock, Djibouti. Upon arrival in Yemen she was given a refugee document by the Yemen authorities, allowing her to reside there. However, she did not remain in the designated refugee camp but continued on to Sana’a.
Fathia soon found employment as a domestic worker and finally began to do something she had not ever been able to do in Hargeisa: earn money and support herself. She worked hard, and at the end of every month Fathia was able to send $50 back to her grandmother and mother in Somaliland.
During this period she says her life improved. She had fulfilled her intentions of moving to Yemen. She also married a Yemen national and gave birth to a daughter in 2013.
After the birth of her daughter, she stopped working and was no longer earning money, since she was raising her own family.
Financially, it was again difficult, and she explains that this strained the relationship with her husband. They also realized that their daughter had a condition that left her physically disabled.
In March, 2015 the political situation worsened in Yemen. At that time, Fathia’s husband was not around as he had left for another part of Yemen. And then the aerial bombardment of Yemen began. It left Fathia and her daughter vulnerable and scared. She tried unsuccessfully to make contact with her husband for several weeks. He never came back and she thinks he was unable to because of the conflict.
She witnessed gun battles and the shelling of different parts of Sana’a, and feared that her house would be struck by bullets or bombs. All of this disrupted regular daily life for her and the rest of the population.
“The war affected everyone: all public services stopped, there was no transportation or food and prices went up very high.”
Due to these circumstances, the escalating insecurity, and not being able to contact her husband, Fathia decided to flee from Yemen at the end of May.
She says, “I thought I would be killed by the bombardment if I stayed longer in Yemen. I had to protect my daughter and myself by going back to Somaliland.”
Fathia left with only her handbag and her daughter in her arms since she is unable to walk. She traveled by road to the port city of Makha where she organized for the boat crossing of the Gulf of Aden to Berbera, Somaliland. It took several days to load the boat with passengers. Fathia paid $100 dollars for the journey.
It was difficult because the vessel was a wooden commercial fishing boat not intended for passengers. It was crowded with over 150 other passengers, mostly Somali nationals and some Yemenis who were fleeing the war. There were no seats and they were at sea for two days. Thankfully Fathia had prepared for the journey and had packed enough food and water for the trip.
Fathia and her daughter arrived in Berbera and were received by the government authorities, IOM and other humanitarian actors responding to the Yemen Crisis in Somaliland. After receiving reception assistance, Fathia and her daughter continued on the final leg of the journey, traveling to Hargeisa by road.
Her reception at home and reunification with her mother and grandmother was one of joy, overshadowed by additional challenges.
While receiving basic medical assistance at the IOM-supported Migration Response Center in Hargeisa, Fathia’s emotions oscillated from that of relief and happiness at making it out of Yemen to trepidation at how she was going to support herself and access medical care for her disabled daughter as a single mother.
Fathia is trying to keep things in perspective.
She says, “I have many challenges after returning to Hargeisa, but I am alive and the situation here is better than being in the war in Yemen.