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Mohamed Ali Koriyo
Mohamed was abducted and tortured on many occasions in Somalia. He's currently being managed for Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) in MSF's mental health unit
Dadaab refugee camp: 30 years in search of dignity
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Mohamed Ali Koriyo is a new patient being managed for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) – a mental health condition that's triggered by a terrifying event — either experiencing it or witnessing it – at the MSF hospital in Dagahaley.
Mohamed went back to Somalia under the voluntary repatriation program by UNHCR in 2016. While he would have preferred resettlement, he claims an impostor stole his identity and took his place for resettlement to the US.
Some of his friends then started inciting him to sign up for voluntary repatriation to Somalia. He consulted his family members and sought to take the token provided by UNHCR to refugees enlisted for repatriation, with the hopes of starting a business in Somalia.
Their ailing mother also wanted to go back to Somalia, which made this decision easier for him. They left together but the mother would later die in Somalia.
“After UNHCR gave us the token, they took us up to the border then left us there. We took private vehicles from Liboi. On the way, we met Al Shabaab militants took me but left my wife and kids to go. They would later release me after paying USD 100. It’s like they knew that people going for repatriation are given money and they ask for a share of it,” Mohamed says.
He was released after two days, then he went and joined his family in Mogadishu. “We got a house for rent then I bought a donkey and started a business,” he says. “In four years, my business had grown and I had opened a retail shop where I sold foodstuff and even bought my own house.”
Mohamed says his woes started in 2020 when he was arrested by the Somali government and jailed for one week “for no reason.” His family contributed money which they paid to bail him out. Four days later, he was arrested again. “This time, the armed people shot around my house and forcefully looted things from my shop. I was released two days later, with nothing to come back home to except my family. I got depressed but tried to pick myself up. I was thankful that my family was not harmed. A few weeks later, armed people came back, pulled me out of my house, covered my eyes and took me away. I would later learn that on that same day, they threw my family outside and demolished my house with a bulldozer. My family did not know where I was and neither did I. The people beat me up, held me hostage for close to 10 days and left me for dead in the forest. I woke up in a hospital in Kismayu. Some people who had goon looking for firewood had found me in the forest.”
Some of Mohamed’s relatives heard about this and went to see him at the hospital in Kismayu. One of his sisters, who lives in Somalia went to support his children as his wife went to tend to him at the hospital. Mohamed’s younger sister, Hawa, who lives in Dagahaley camp wanted them to be brought back to the camp “They said his condition was not good, and considering his young children, I told my sister to bring them to the camp where they would be safe and go to school,” says Hawa. “When they returned from Somalia, I took them all in and built a small mud house for them inside my compound in the camp.”
“But after some time, he started fighting with my family. I got him out of there and rented a place for him within the camp, but even there, he fights with neighbours, who now want him gone. I don’t know where else to take him,” Hawa, 35, says, looking at Mohamed. Mohamed looks back at her, and doesn’t say a word.
Mohamed lives his life in so much fear that he stays awake every night and only sleeps during the day. He has also refused to take his children to school. “There could be cameras in those Duksis (muslim class) where people can watch them. I live my life in fear, I know the people are now looking for me, trying to find where I am. I chew miraa (khat) every time to stay alert, lest the find me asleep. My neighbours don’t like me and neither do I them,” Mohamed says. Hawa smirks.
“I am worried about the children; they are just hanging around doing nothing all day. I can’t take them because he will fight me,” Hawa says. “I’d like to take them to school but he doesn’t want that.”
But Mohamed wasn’t always like this, his sister says. “He was okay before, but since he came back from Somalia, he is like a different person all together,” Hawa says. “Whatever happened to him in Somalia broke him. He is gone. He has lost his mind.”
“My brain is fried, I know, but I am not mad. I can perceive situations instantly and react,” eyes wide open, the innocence in Mohamed’s voice as he says this is almost comical.
Hawa says that since Mohamed came, he hasn’t been able to access any services from UNHCR. “His [ration] card was deactivated, they can only access water and healthcare services in the camp,” she says.
“We only heard on the radio that there were plans to close the camp. I don’t know about him, but myself I can’t go back there unless they force me to,” Hawa says.
“Who?” Mohamed interjects, “there’s no way I am stepping a foot back into Somalia.”
Hawa continues: “If they decide for us to stay in peace here like we have, it would be good also for our children to grow. I am happy to get resettled, even now I am just waiting for a flight to the UK as we are on the resettlement pipeline. If all else fails, I’d rather integrate locally than go back to Somalia.” Hawa was six when her parents fled Somalia in 1992. She has 10 children – all born in the camp.
“I feel safe in the camp, it’s quite peaceful here, though I hope my resettlement process is expedited,” she adds.
Hawa says she washes clothes for people in the camp to get some extra income to supplement the provisions she gets from the aid agencies in the camps. “I get health services from MSF and other support from UNHCR – I really appreciate your services, but I hope you get some help for him,” she says, pointing at Mohamed. “Even I can’t help him, yet he can’t help himself, I don’t know what to do.”
Mohamed lives with his wife and four children in the camp.