While every refugee’s story is different and their anguish personal, they all share a common thread of uncommon courage – the courage not only to survive, but to persevere and rebuild their shattered lives. ~ Antonio Guterres
I’m back! Back from a long journey in which I learned the art of letting go. But, before I write about what I learned from those experiences, I will start at the beginning of our journey. We used to fly out of Managua because the tickets were cheaper to the states, but now Liberia, Costa Rica beats the airline price from Managua by at least $400 for each round-trip ticket for our route.
We packed light knowing that we would return with many supplies and books for my children’s library. Leaving Nicaragua at the border was easy. We simply showed our residency cards, paid 200 cords apiece to leave and walked to the Costa Rica side of the border.
The closer we got to the Costa Rica immigration office, the more armed and shielded police we saw. What was going on? We knew the Cuban refugees who had been detained at the border were gone. Overturned garbage barrels, trash littering the streets, and stray dogs running with bits of garbage treats they scavenged reminded me of a scene out of Mad Max Thunderdome.
At the Costa Immigration office, we were the last ones to have our passports stamped. I thought it was strange because there are usually long lines at the border. The officers appeared to be distracted and they never asked us for proof of leaving the country, so we gathered our luggage and started to walk out the door to catch the bus to Liberia.
Suddenly wide-eyed tourists ran in our direction followed by shouts and frantic directions from border police, “Quickly now! Be Careful! Stay here!” We were herded into a closed-in area where we usually put our luggage on the conveyor belt. The sun filtered through spiderweb cracks in the tall glass panes. Were they bullets that shattered the windows?
It was difficult to see what was happening, so we squeezed our way through the crowd of people and wound our way outside. The doors to the immigration office slammed shut, as well as all the ticket offices where we planned to buy our bus tickets. The border was closed and we were stuck in the middle!
Before us, was a line of armed police and in front of them, 800 frustrated Somali refugees trapped at the border for three months. They were hurling rocks at the police. One refugee came forward with a small baby in his arms and shouted at the police.
Who are these Somalis? How did they get here and where were they going? I learned that Somalia has faced lawlessness and strife since 1991 when Somalia collapsed into civil war. At present, the situation in large parts of south-central Somalia is still highly unstable and insecure. As the country of 10.8 million continues to experience political and economic instability, its residents are a burden no one wants to share.
Recently, Kenya, the bordering country, has pledged to remove Somalis living in refugee camps from within their borders, potentially sending hundreds of thousands of people back to Somalia. It has become a humanitarian crisis as they move northward into Europe. Across the EU, mounting internal pressures have intensified debates about migration and asylum and are increasingly encouraging policies that restrict and control asylum and migration.
So, what are the options for Somalis? They have become a burden no one wants to share. Not wanted in Europe or Africa, they head West seeking a better life in the United States. But, their journey is fraught with terror and hardship. The Long Route from Somalia to the U.S.
At the moment, 800 Somalis live in make-shift plastic shacks near the border of Costa Rica waiting to continue their journey to the U.S. They have small campfires to cook and lines of freshly washed clothes hang over barbed wire fences. The children play in the camp, while the adults make-do with what they have available. We watched groups of Somalis walking along the road or waiting for buses to take them to the next town to shop for food.
What strikes me the most about the Somali refugees is the desperation of these people who fled conflict or hunger and who now feel that they may be forced to return to Somalia. But, they have nothing to go back to! Many of the Somalis are undocumented.
So, they wait. Frustration boiled over the day we crossed the border. While looking at these photos, we may want to remind ourselves of the fact that the number of people who put their lives in danger in overcrowded boats or journeys of thousands of miles, are people who flee conditions in countries like Somalia and who find no protection as they pass on their way to the U.S. That might make it easier to understand the choices that people make or rather the lack of choices they face.
We finally were able to get a taxi driver to take us through back roads around the riot to Liberia, Costa Rica. I couldn’t stop fretting over the plight of the Somali refugees. Their desperation haunted me. We were returning to loving families, warm beds, and abundant food. I can’t imagine their lives.
If you want to help the next time you cross the border to renew your visas, please take food or money for the Somali refugees. Your help will be greatly appreciated.
What would you do if you were a burden no one wanted to share? If you have nothing to go back to?