One woman’s flight from Shabaab’s clutches to a life of torture in exile

You learn to expect a fair bit of correspondence from readers as a journalist in the digital age, and some of it can leave you at a loss.

The one I reproduce below – after doing some work to confirm the details and in the hope that someone can come to the aid of this woman –  is one example. Names have been changed.

“My name is Khadija Hussein, UNHCR number (withheld). I fled the fighting in Hawl-wadaag district of Mogadishu due to the tribal civil war in 2006.

I belonged to the Darood tribe which was at war with the majority Hawiiye. Our neighborhood was constantly raided by militias and one day our next door neighbour’s wife, who was five months pregnant, was gang-raped and had a miscarriage.

I feared for my life as I was also pregnant. I had lost contact with my husband when the fighting reached our neighbourhood and I decided to flee to Kenya to escape the fighting. I walked more than 100 kilometres to get out of Mogadishu and towards the nearest Somalia/Kenya border.

At the end of the journey my legs and feet were swollen and I had blisters all over them. Some of my toenails had popped out; I arrived at the border and lay exhausted on the Kenyan side.

There I met a Ugandan small trader businessman Isaac Kabalega who checked on me, took me to a dispensary and later gave me some money to travel to Nairobi.

I arrived in Eastleigh eight months pregnant and I stayed for some days with some of my tribesmen.

However, my husband’s kinsmen continuously grumbled that I was a burden to them, since my husband was nowhere to be seen or had not been heard from.

I then went to live with some women from my tribe who told me to find work. The only option was for me to start selling tea on the streets.

But I had no money. Eventually Isaac sent me some money from Uganda to help me out.

I began selling tea. By this time Isaac used to call about three times a week and ask me about myself and how the business was going.

When I went to hospital to give birth I informed Isaac. He came to Nairobi with a full baby kit.

I was very happy since none of my husband’s kinsmen came to visit me in hospital and the women from my tribe whom I stayed with were busy helping me out with my tea selling business.

Isaac paid my bill and hired a taxi to take me home. It is at about this time that my husband’s kinsmen began accusing me of having an affair with an “Unclean Kaffir” and betraying my husband.

I was angry but could do nothing. Eventually I realised that I was becoming close to Isaac and eventually had a relationship with him.

We became married in a civil marriage and that’s when the problems began. My tribesmen disowned me and my husband’s kinsmen began talking vaguely of restoring their brother’s honour and dignity.

One day Isaac was coming to visit me when he was attacked by a group of men with metal pipes for no apparent reason. I became a pariah in the Somali community in Eastleigh.

Isaac began receiving threatening letters at his home in Kampala where there is a sizable Somali community.

His business premises were burned to the ground. He was accused by the Somalis in Kampala of my abduction and was proved innocent when he provided our marriage certificate.

The torture continues. Me and my husband rarely travel together in public and are basically in hiding in the slums around Nairobi.

I have been threatened by total Somali strangers that they will spill acid on my face for dishonouring their tribe.

I won’t and can’t separate from my husband even if he is a Christian. But all this has happened despite my holding a UNHCR mandate.

We can’t go on living like this in continuous fear and continually feeling afraid for ourselves. Khadija.”


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