“Before we come to the United States we think that maybe we get a problem, maybe nobody can go to the mosque, but when we came here we see there is freedom, full freedom and democracy. You can do whatever you like. Just don’t do the wrong.”
Hussein Abukar, 35, has lived in the United States for eight months with his wife and four young children. They are refugees from Somalia, a war ravaged country of East Africa.
Abukar, speaking English at a fast clip, recounted his life before coming to San Diego. “In Somalia, when I worked, the government was better than now. The family that was in power, that family, they were living like a king. They got all the good positions. I just get a little money from my daddy then. I start to make a business. We opened one small shop, and then I bought a minibus. That was our life.
“First we get that civilian war. We lost a lot of lives there. Then a lot of things happened. You know, my mother, they killed her. And also my father. He was a doctor and was working at the hospital.
“We cannot live there. We cannot stay there. We just have to move with the family. If the kids died on the way, if they died with out food or without water, I have to move anyhow. I say I have to take good care of them. Maybe if I go out from Somalia I will get a good life.
“So when we try to go out from there, a lot of things happen. My wife and my kids, they just get a ship that was moving in the sea. For me, they catch me and they put me in prison for a long time, two years and a half.”
One of several war ring clans had taken over in 1991, and the clan forced Abukar to do hard labor. During his imprisonment he made contact with the Red Cross, but they were unable to get him out.
“Another family came, and they would start fighting between the two. In that war, I escaped with a group. Then I just came to the border of Somalia and Kenya. I just ask the people because we were sleeping in the town, and we don’t know where we are. Then I start to con tact the Red Cross. You know, I ask them, ‘I am looking for my family.’ Anyhow, it takes almost nine months, then some people told me I need to write some letters to the BBC. We have the Somalian language also in the BBC. They have radio for Somalia.
“Then they told me at that time that they [my family] were in Egypt. I don’t have the money. I don’t know how to con tact them. I just get a job and come to Egypt and we meet there. At that time, they had a bad life, but, you know, they were not in a refugee camp. They were in an apartment in Egypt. The UN was helping them, but what they was giving them, it was just enough to eat and to pay the rent. You cannot pay the whole house rent. When you take the apartment you have to live in one room. The other room you have to rent to some other ones. You have to help, you know.
“They were living there almost two years. Then when I come there we go to the [U.N. High Com missioner for Refugees] office. We make an appointment, then we make an interview there. They told me I had to wait for one week and they would give me the results. Then they said that they believe me. They also have to look into your children. Are they your children or not? We was waiting more than one year when they make sure of everything and we finish our programs. Then they tell us, ‘You get a chance to go to the United States. How you like it?’ I said, ‘Really, if I go to the United States, that’s the place for my kids. They will become like kings.’ I am 35 years old. Still I am young, but I say, ‘I don’t want to lose the future for my kids. They are the new generation coming.’
“We came on 4 December 2002. When I came the government was helping me just to pay rent, so I say, ‘I’m not sick. I’m healthy.’ I know how to speak a little English so I say, ‘I will go up to the college or I will go up to the school just to learn more, but I need a job also. I need to work. I need to help myself, you know.’ So they said, ‘Okay. We’ll look at jobs for you.’”
Catholic Charities found Abukar a job as a security guard. “They give me the night shift because all the people, they don’t like the night shift. But at that time I want to work, so I say, ‘I have to work hard, even nights or mornings. I have to work very hard for my kids.’ I accepted with them, and I think I have been working almost five months all night. I worked first near the Mexican border. At that time my car break down so I cannot do it. They change me to Coca Cola Company. Now I’m at Cox Cable.
“I have a car, but I just buy for temporary because Catholic Charities have a program for people who like to buy a car, who like to buy a house. They help. You have to open an account, and you have to just put into your account every month $100 or $200 for ten months. Then they give you some more money. I think it is $1000 or $2000 more just to buy a car. I’m with that program now, and I think I have six months more. Then they will help me to buy a good car.”