Saeed was about to take the gamble of his life. He had managed to collect together $4000 of money that he could ill-afford, pay it to a man he’d never met, in an environment where no one can be trusted, to be taken to an unknown country, with the hope that they would allow him to stay. This was Somalia in 2001, a country ruined by bloody civil war. Saeed had no choice, but to leave his family behind; they had already killed his wife; he was on his own and he didn’t know whether he would be killed that day.
In 1955, when Saeed was born, Somalia was a peaceful place to live. He lived in the port city of Kismayo, in southern Somalia, approximately 150km from the border with Kenya. For 30+ years he enjoyed his life there, getting married, and having his 2 daughters and 1 son. For a period in the 1980s he spent time in Dubai working as a lorry driver so he could make enough money to provide security for his family. From this he was also able to buy cars and land.
Since 1969, Somalia had been ruled by a military dictatorship controlled by Major General Mohamed Siad Barre. He had courted both the Soviet Union and the United States during the Cold War years due to their strategic position on the Horn of Africa. As the Cold War came to an end in the late 1980s, progressively the disquiet about Barre’s regime surfaced and by the early 1990s, the Civil War started.
For Saeed, and many like him, their lives imploded. He lost his job and his property. As the Government fell, so the rule of law became the preserve of the local militia groups. Kalashnikovs and bazookas became freely available; these were the means of managing power and the people. Saeed was forced, at gunpoint, to do work; sometimes he would get a kilo of rice, sometimes he would get nothing. He knew that if he refused, he would be killed.
Saeed was born into the large Bujuni tribe which had an African-Arab legacy, that extended throughout Kenya and Tanzania. In Somalia, it was a small population which meant that he and his family were always vulnerable. They were living from hand to mouth, just to survive. There were so many factions, and sub-factions within the various militias it was impossible to know who to trust, who would kill you and who would protect you. In 1994, the worst horror happened to him as his wife was killed by the gunmen.
He kept perservering, and fighting for his family, and in 1997 he moved into the village areas, amongst his fellow tribesmen, hoping for security. The situation deteriorated so badly that they used to say that “Whoever got shot, was a lucky man”
“Sometimes they will hear your dialect and just kill you because of that…because they know where you come from”
In 2001, Saeed finally reached the conclusion that he needed to escape, but he couldn’t move anywhere outside of the country with his Somalian passport; it was now a worthless document, it would not get him onto any aircraft or through any international border. It was seen by the world as a fiction.
Through his connections, and “friends of friends” he needed to arrange to buy a passport and for someone to smuggle him out of the country. For his $4000, his smuggler would allow him to borrow the passport for the period of the journey, with his own photo in it, and he would take Saeed to a European country. He didn’t know where he was going, or whether they would be successful in getting through the border. It was all based on trust in a world where trust was barely in the vocabulary.
They landed at Heathrow airport and they got through border control. Saeed had to return the passport to the smuggler, who then returned to Kenya. Saeed was without a passport, from a state that was in chaos – he was at this point “stateless”.
He was housed in London, and after a week he went to the Home Office to declare himself as an Asylum seeker. His first interview was in January 2002, in Liverpool, where his application was rejected on the basis that they did not believe that he was part of the Bujuni tribe. Apart from a local document, which was as worthless as his Somalian passport, he had nothing to prove his ethnicity. His case was heard again at the Mansfield court who also rejected his position but they granted him 12 months leave to remain on humanitarian grounds.
After the year was complete, his case was reviewed, and they upheld the rejection. This was devastating for Saeed. He became very depressed and resorted to alcohol and drugs to block out his state of mind. Although he was not approved to stay there was no process for being returned to Somalia – he had no passport. Despite his mental state, he received no state benefits as he was neither an asylum seeker, nor a refugee ( as an asylum seeker he would have received housing support and approximately £40 per week living expenses). He had to find work to survive. This he did for nearly 10 years, also checking in with the Police every month to confirm his status. In 2010, he asked for the case to be re-opened. Whilst there was no new evidence to support his claim as a Bujuni, they took account of his contribution to society with his work, and the fact that he had not been involved in any criminal activity, and granted him “leave to remain” and become an official resident of the UK. He is now a British citizen.
Now, he is struggling with many diseases, and disabling conditions which prevent him from working. However, he can speak 5 different languages and is able to help people who have come from many parts of Africa and the Middle East who find themselves in Derby and who need help and support.
His son and daughters are still in Somalia and he hasn’t seen them for 13 years. He wishes to return to his homeland one day but at the moment, it still is not safe. The man that left Somalia, “stateless”, is now a proud member of British society, enjoying sanctuary in Derby looking forward to a future where, in his own ways, he can simply promote “Peace and Love”.