Somali Refugees: A Burden No One Wants to Share


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.

IMG_1795At 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?

IMG_1797It 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.

IMG_1799Who 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.

IMG_1802So, 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.

IMG_1808What 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.

IMG_1810And so they wait.

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?

13 thoughts on “Somali Refugees: A Burden No One Wants to Share

  1. How on earth did they get to Costa Rica Debbie? This post stunned me as here in Minnesota we have the largest population of Somalis outside of Somalia in the world. We always are taking Somali refugee in but I know it is much harder now as my friend works with the US government and actually interviews potential immigrants in the camps. This is a crazy story! I’m surprised I haven’t read about it in our papers given the huge Somali population here.

    • Nicole, I wondered the same thing. The only information I could find was from a friend’s article in Fusion, which I put a link above called “The Long Route from Somalia to the U.S.” I read Tim’s article long before the riot at the border. And I asked if there was something we could do to help. It is tragic.
      Fortunately, on our return trip, we gave them all the Costa Rica money we had plus several 20 dollar bills. They invited us to visit their camp, but we had to hurry through the border to catch the ferry back. I have no idea how long they will be at the border. It just breaks my heart.

  2. Let me be the devil’s advocate here. All I read about is Cubans/Somalis/the poor of the entire world all wanting to come to America. Guess what? The gravy train is over in America for its own people. American has 15 million people living under the poverty line, runs a huge annual deficit borrowing against the future to spend money it doesn’t have, and has a 19 trillion dollar debt.
    What make people think the poor of the entire undeveloped world are the responsibility of the American taxpayer? Most people I know live from paycheck to paycheck, owe a lot on credit cards, and can’t pay their children’s’ college bills. How about American getting its own house in order before allowing more 3rd world impoverished people with no resources to come here and live off the American taxpayer. If this were ever put to a vote here, I’m pretty sure most Americans would say that we should use our resources for Americans, not foreigners. After all, who would feed a stranger across the street if he did not have enough food to feed his own children?

    • Tom, I think it is important to see both sides of an issue and I agree with much of what you say. Of course there are enormous challenges with immigration. Like you stated, it places financial strain on our already limited resources.
      We need to invest a lot in immigrants and their families to make sure they succeed. Some of them achieve the American Dream, others strain our resources, and even worse, become terrorists.
      I have no answers, but I believe that our country was founded on freedom and immigration. It is an extremely complex issue. No matter what we believe on the issues of immigration, it is something to contemplate and look for a balance. Thanks for being the devil’s advocate. There is always more than one side to an issue.

  3. Talk to Minnesotans about the growing Somali community in US.
    Some refugees appreciate living in liberty and assimilate – but many do not.
    They continue to practice female genital mutilation even after relocating to western nations.
    Some are joining ISIS from the US after living on the largesse of American taxpayers for years.
    I suspect you might see it differently if Ometepe were overrun with such people (?)

    Much relevant information can be found at this excellent blog:
    https://refugeeresettlementwatch.wordpress.com/?s=Somali

    • Desdi, I have a good friend that lives in Minnesota and she often talks about the issues of the Somali immigrants. Minnesota has the largest population of Somalis outside Somalia. 60,000-70,000 Somalis now make Minnesota their home.
      Of course there will be problems with that many immigrants in one area.
      Yet, where do they go when they are unwanted in Kenya, Europe, and other areas of the world? It was very sad to see the frustration of the Somalis at the border.
      I do believe that the United States has to accept some responsibility for making Somalia’s nightmare worse with Operation Restore Hope in 1992-94.
      Thanks for the link, Desdi.

      • Good response & valid points…

        Lewiston, ME is another interesting case study. By the way, one of my heroes (heroines?) is the Somali author & speaker Ayaan Hirsi Ali.
        Are you familiar with her at all?

  4. It’s one thing to read about refugees fleeing starvation, political upheaval, civil war and genocide and another thing altogether to see them standing before you, caught in another no man’s land. I can’t imagine their desperation, anxiety and hopelessness as they try to survive and take their families to a safer place. I can’t help but feel frustrated with my country’s (the US) refusal to admit more of these desperate people into a safe harbor … Once we were a land of immigrant’s, a refuge of safety and hope and now … I wish we would follow Canada’s example and open our arms. Sadly, I’m not sure what the US stands for anymore … Anita

    • I don’t know what the U.S. stands for either. It opened my eyes when I did some research into the plight of the Somalis. The U.S. led invasion of Somalia in 1992 only reinforced my thoughts that the U.S. invades tiny countries, like Nicaragua and Somalia, cloaked in statements of humanitarianism, peace, and altruism.
      But, living abroad we see the impact of those cloaked statements.
      Thanks for your thoughts, Anita.

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