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Views from the ground – Abdi:
“I am in limbo.”

The following story was originally compiled for the Mixed Migration Review 2019 and has been reproduced here for wider access through this website’s readership.

4Mi survey conducted in Musina, South Africa in October 2018.[1]

I started my journey about a year ago in Baidoa, a town not too far from my home in Bakool in central Somalia. I had spent my whole life there and I am 40 now. I am married and I have seven children. Where I come from, people of all ages have been migrating for years. I myself probably would have stayed had there been peace and security in Somalia, rather than years of civil war and attacks by the Shabaab insurgency. But my wife encouraged me to leave, and my friends and family who were already abroad also persuaded me and gave me useful information.

I was not very fussy about exactly where I went, as long as things there would be better: better education and medical care. A good social welfare system was also important. Once the decision had been made, nothing was going to stop me, although I was worried about violence or even dying on the way.

In the end, I opted to head south, to South Africa, at least to start with, as this route was cheaper and
seemed safer than others. I figured the whole trip would cost me about $2,700. I had some savings and sold some possessions to pay for it. My plan was to pay smugglers as I went. If I ran out of money, I knew I could receive more money via hawala, an informal money-transfer network. It turned out that not all the smugglers I used were friendly or helpful.

My first stop was in Mandera, a town on the other side of the border with Kenya. I stayed there for a while to earn money for the next leg. Then I went down to Nairobi, hoping to find smugglers to help me get through Tanzania.

I found smugglers to take me through Tanzania and I paid them, but they abandoned me at the border town of Namanga. I managed to make my way to Dar es Salaam, where I stayed with friends and relatives for a short time. I also had to pay bribes of some $50 to Tanzanian government officials.

I then travelled on South through Tanzania to Malawi. There is a big refugee camp in Dzaleka that has been there for a long time. I was abandoned by my smugglers there as well. It was hard in Malawi. I saw another young migrant die after falling sick. He didn’t have the right medicine, even though I think his smugglers could have helped him.

During my journey, I saw a lot of children travelling with adult migrants. I’d say that at least a quarter, perhaps half, of all the migrants I saw were under 18.

Then I got to Zimbabwe, and had more trouble. In Bulawayo, a gang robbed me. They took my money and some personal belongings.

Now I am in South Africa. In the end, after paying smugglers and bribes, the trip cost a bit more than I expected, about $3,500 in all. I am in limbo here. I applied for asylum but was rejected. This happens to thousands of other people from Somalia, and also Ethiopia. I’m going to stay here, for now anyway, keeping under the radar. I haven’t decided whether I want to stay here for the long term and have my family join me, or move on somewhere else, or go back to Somalia. At some point that could be the best option, but not yet.


[1]‘Views from the ground’ presents six stories from migrants and refugees on the move, drawn directly from their responses to the 4Mi survey. As the surveys consist almost entirely of multiple-choice questions, these narratives, while presented in the first person, are not verbatim quotations, but they do faithfully reflect respondents’ answers and the geopolitical context of their journeys. 4Mi does not record names or other personally identifiable information and so all names are aliases.