BOSSASO, Somalia Sept 14 (UNHCR) – Civil war was raging in Somalia when Fatima Mohamed, then just 12 years old, and her older sister fled Mogadishu and travelled north to safety in Yemen. The two young girls ventured out on the dangerous journey in the year 2000, leaving behind their mother and other siblings.
They never imagined that so many years would pass, and that another war would break out, before they set foot again in the Horn of Africa. Although Fatima Mohamed had a growing urge to see her aging mother in Mogadishu, no plans were made to travel back.
Now, 15 years later and a mother of five, Fatima Mohamed was forced to flee once more. This time, her only escape was to return to Somalia. And here she is – home, but her homecoming was far from what she had dreamt of.
“I haven’t seen my mother for 15 years and I wanted to see her before she dies,” Fatima Mohamed says, scarred by the violence she has survived.
Fatima Mohamed has spent more of her life in Yemen than in Somalia, the country of her birth. Yemen was not only her new home, but also where she met her husband, who worked as a schoolteacher, and where she lost him. They lived a good life in Mu’alla, she says, until the fighting escalated in their area. Her husband was killed when a bomb hit the house where he was visiting friends.
There was little time to mourn. Fatima Mohamed was struggling in a war zone, trying to manage their five children, ranging from one to 14 years in age, all on her own. She held out for a month and a half and was at home cooking when a nearby explosion caused her to spill boiling water on herself. That’s when she made up her mind that it was time to flee.
“When I was running from the fighting my leg was burning,” she recalls. “But there was no time to waste with the fighting coming closer.”
She and her children hastily packed a few belongings and travelled from Mu’alla in Aden City to Mukalla Port in Hadramaut, where they boarded a large boat with over 2,000 other people fleeing to Somalia.
Altogether nearly 30,000 people have fled from Yemen to Somaliland, Puntland and South Central Somalia since the crisis erupted in late March this year.
Fatima Mohamed and her children are now hosted by UNHCR and its partners in temporary accommodations provided at the reception centre in Bossaso, Puntland, while they wait to travel onwards to Mogadishu.
Fatima Mohamed says she is looking forward to reuniting with her elderly mother. She plans to start working in a small shop, so that she can afford the school fees to put her children through school in the spirit of their father’s short life and career as a teacher. They need to be equipped to manage an unpredictable future in the country they call ‘home’, but which they have now seen for the first time in their lives.
By Stephanie Ferry in Bossaso, Somalia and Alexandra Strand Holm in Nairobi, Kenya.