John’s Story: A Childhood Stolen
“John” grew up in Mogadishu, Somalia. He arrived in Ireland alone at the age of 16 as a separated child. He was placed with a foster family in Cork but found it difficult to integrate with another family when all he could think about was his own mother and brother who he had been forced to leave behind in Somalia. He was granted refugee status in 2010 and last year applied for permission for his mother and brother to join him in Ireland. Although refugees have a right to apply for “family reunification”, the process can be long and arduous – often taking two years or more. In the interim, refugees and their families face extended periods of desperate worry and insecurity, never knowing if they will be able to bring their loved ones to safety in time. This is John’s story:
“I had a horrible life in Mogadishu. In Somalia, we don’t have a strong government to look after people. My family is from the Hamari group, which is small and often attacked by other groups. We had trouble with militias. In 1995, my father was shopping with my sister and they were both shot and killed by the militia. My brother was also shot by the militia when he was 20.
After my father died, everything was even harder. We didn’t have money for food. Nobody would help us. My mother was cleaning floors and houses to try to help my sister and brother and I survive. In 2005, we had problems with al-Shabaab [a violent Somali militia group]. One day, members of al-Shabaab came to my house with masks on and took me away with them. They told me that I had to join them and if I didn’t, they would shoot me. I was 15 years old and very afraid. Soon after, I was injured. I managed to escape and went back home to my mother. She told me: “You can’t stay. If you stay, you’ll be killed.”
My aunt in Canada sent money to help me and my brother escape. He went to South Africa and I travelled to Ethiopia. Some friends of my family there introduced me to someone they said would help to get me to safety. I was given a passport ad left Ethiopia. I arrived in Dublin late at night. It was a big change for me. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know what to do. I was on the street and saw a man who I thought might be Ethiopian so I asked him for help. It turned out that he was Somali. He took me to the Garda station. I was 16 and a half. This is how I came to Ireland.
First I lived in a hostel and then they sent me to live with a foster family. It was difficult staying with a foster family because I was so worried about my own family. They thought I didn’t want to talk but it was because I was so worried. I didn’t know where my family was living. I couldn’t sleep. I thought maybe my family was dead. So I went to school every day and tried to work but my mind was my memory. There was no room for anything else. I didn’t know how to contact them to find out if they were safe.
Finally, with help from an international Somali radio station, I was able to get in touch with them. They found my mother, brother and sister. Now, at last, I can contact them. I call, I call, I call. I call every two days to my family. My brother is in South Africa. He is a refugee there but it is too dangerous. He told me he is afraid to walk outside. I am worried about him.
I am living happy now, living by myself but sometimes I have sleep problems. I am still worried about my family. My stomach was hurting and my doctor asked if I was worried about exams and I told him yes but it was really about my family. I am going to see my mum this June. I will meet her in Ethiopia. I have been saving half my money every week to pay for my ticket and her ticket to go there from Mogadishu. I am also worried about my mum’s health. She is very, very sick. I hope I can take her to see a doctor when I meet her in Ethiopia but I don’t know how I will find the money to pay for it.
My favourite things about Ireland are the food, the people and the love of sports. It is very good here. People are lovely. People in Ireland have very good lives. They are lucky. In Somalia we can’t watch TV. Here, if you want to watch the hurling, you don’t have to pay – you can just turn on the TV. My teachers are lovely, I have lots of friends. My school is the best. When I came here, I just learned everything. I’m watching all the time RTE2, watching people cooking. I cook every day my own food. I know how to cook doner kebab. My friends and I like cooking together. In Somalia, we only got two things to eat: rice and pasta, pasta and rice. We don’t have pizza, I just learned about it here and we don’t have takeaway, I learned about that here as well.
My dream for the future is to work in business or engineering. I only have one more year in school then I have to go to college. I learned to read and write after coming to Ireland because I couldn’t go to school in Somalia. We don’t have free school there so if you can’t pay you can’t go.
Now I am still waiting for the answer for family reunification with my mum and brother. I started the application in 2011 and they tell me it will take two years. They say to me I need DNA tests for them. They are waiting to come to Ireland, then we will be able to enjoy life together. I will be happy then and finally get some rest, then I can study. I will be happy to get some rest. Now I am just missing my Mum. She loves her family. Now, when she gets sick, nobody knows. She wants to be with her family so we can support each other. I wish it could happen faster because I am losing my energy, you know. My hope and my dream is that actually we will be together: me, my brother and my mum.”
An abridged version of Adam’s story appeared in The Journal on World Refugee Day, Wednesday June 20 2012 and in the Irish Examiner on the same day. Click below to read our other first person accounts of life as an asylum seeker or refugee in Ireland: