Somali family flees Ukraine, becoming refugees twice over

Mohamud Abdi, 31, packed his family’s bags the day Russia invaded Ukraine, having escaped Somalia seven years earlier.

Mohamud Abdi, a Somali refugee in Ukraine who has fled to Germany
Mohamud Abdi, a Somali refugee in Ukraine who has since moved to Germany, pictured with wife Zamzam and seven-year-old daughter Ruweyda [Courtesy: Mohamud Abdi]

On February 24, a cloudy Thursday, Mohamud Abdi was preparing for work in Kyiv while his wife was getting their seven-year-old daughter ready for school when the Russian military started bombarding the Ukrainian capital.

As explosions rang out, Abdi, a grocer, Zamzam Hussein and little Ruweyda stayed in their apartment. They felt nervous as they feared how the conflict might evolve.

Understanding Russia had launched an all-out war, they discussed evacuation plans.

Abdi hurriedly packed their bags and raced down the stairs of the 14-storey residential building.

“The war suddenly changed my family’s objectives and we immediately started thinking about how we could escape,” Abdi told Al Jazeera by phone from Germany, where he ultimately ended up after escaping Ukraine.

When they left their building for the nearest bus station, they saw that everyone else was also trying to flee.

The city’s roads were jammed and drivers were continuously honking their horns.

Abdi, a Somali refugee who fled the armed conflict in Somalia with his wife, arrived in Ukraine in 2015 via Ethiopia and Russia.

Mohamud Abdi worked as a journalist in Somalia but fled the conflict there to arrive in Ukraine in 2015 [Courtesy: Mohamud Abdi]

The 31-year-old, who had worked as a journalist in the East African nation, was happy to be in a safe European country.

But just seven years later, he was trying to escape war once again.

In Kyiv, the minibus the family tried to escape in ran out of fuel. There was a sense of panic at filling stations as cars lined up for petrol to continue their journeys to western Ukraine, near the country’s European borders.

Hours later, they were finally able to fill up and join thousands of others escaping by road.

“On our way to the Polish border, we were scared of possible Russian military air strikes. I was constantly thinking of the uncertainty surrounding our future,” said Abdi.

He never imagined he could face the same fate in Europe and has been repeatedly reminded of his bleakest times in Somalia.

After a three-day journey which he describes as tedious and full of fears, they arrived at the Ukraine-Polish border where they met refugees from the Middle East, Asia and Africa.

“The reason I left my country in the first place was due to war. The same war devastated my second home in Europe, and I’m again seeking refuge in Kassel, Germany.”

The young family now lives in a studio apartment in the central German city and hopes to reach the United States.

That may be difficult, however.

In March, President Joe Biden said the US would accept as many as 100,000 refugees from Ukraine.

But it remains unclear how such a process would work.

Washington’s Western allies have also announced more billions of dollars of humanitarian aid to Ukrainian refugees in Europe, but it is not clear whether that aid could be received by non-Ukrainian refugees affected by the war.

Before Russia’s invasion, Ukraine was a destination and transit country for asylum seekers trying to enter Europe – and many were from war-torn countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

According to the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), at the end of 2021, some 5,000 refugees in Ukraine needed humanitarian support.

Abdullahi Wa’eys, a former refugee from Somalia who now advocates for asylum seekers in Kassel, is busy welcoming people fleeing Ukraine to his adopted home.

“It’s not the best time to be a refugee in Europe,” he told Al Jazeera.

“It’s unfortunate that many refugees have again been affected by the same reason they left their native land, and are still seeking safe place to live. It will be difficult for them to integrate with Germans given the culture difference and the European countries’ reluctance in receiving refugees [who are not Ukrainian nationals] now.”

Source: Al Jazeera