by Elizabeth Harrell, HTC associate
“Migration is not a choice, it is not an option. It is not something you can plan. Rather, it is a decision between life and death.”
These words, spoken by Somalian refugee Adil Ahmed, reflect a reality for many migrants worldwide who are prompted to cross state or international borders because of conflict, lack of opportunity at home and poor living conditions.* Adil was once one of these individuals, and his vulnerability in a foreign land made him an easy target for traffickers. Adil’s journey from his home country to Libya, Malta and eventually the United States portrays a life influenced by forces outside of his control. His ability to rise above these forces with optimism, resilience and courage is inspirational.
Adil was born and raised in Mogadishu, Somalia, a country rift in civil war since 1991. Violence was a normal part of life for Adil: “All we wanted was to live one day without fearing gunfire or a rocket falling into the house,” he said. After graduating from university in Sudan, Adil did not have a legal place to reside – his Sudanese visa had expired and his entry to Somalia was blocked by the jihadist militant group al-Shabaab.
Hearing that Libya was willing to hire migrant workers in agricultural sectors, Adil fled there. The trek across the Sahara was expensive (a migrant’s life savings are often used to secure transportation) and dangerous (many perish along the way due to dehydration and heat exhaustion). For Adil, the risks were worthwhile. He explains, “I had no other choice. I just wanted to get a little bit of money to live with and help my family.” The trip from Sudan to Libya took seven days and, as Adil solemnly recalls, “It was horrible, but I was one of the lucky ones.”
Upon arriving at the Libyan border, Adil was arrested for lack of proper paperwork for entrance into the country. He spent two months in jail, but eventually escaped and traveled to Benghazi to look for work. While working at an open-air market, a man approached him and offered him a job as a sheep herder. Adil accepted, as he had neither money nor documents to travel legally, or a safe place to stay. Adil explains:
“He took me to his farm and said, ‘You are going to stay here and I will give you food, and you are going to work for me as a herder.’” He paid me $200 a month. I had no choice, I had to accept that. I needed the money, I needed protection from the police; they ask for money or arrest you or they even kill you for being an illegal immigrant.”
During his time on the Benghazi farm, Adil was fortunate to escape mistreatment and beatings. He notes that others were not so lucky: “I never had any trouble but I used to hear and sometimes see people being mistreated or being beaten, I didn’t have any trouble as I was just doing my job. I was giving him what he wanted and doing the right thing. I never had any problems.”
After two months at the farm, Adil escaped by convincing his trafficker to take him to visit one of his brothers in Benghazi City for two days. He explains that the trafficker, “took me to Benghazi City, and then my friend came and took me, promising that I would be back to work in two days. After two days he called me, but we never answered.”
Even after escaping his trafficker, Adil’s perilous journey was far from complete. After returning to Benghazi with his friend, Adil left on a boat for Italy. He was forced to land in Malta and lived there until his resettlement to the United States was granted in September 2013. Despite such adversity, Adil remains positive: “I’ve always been a very positive person, very ambitious, very hardworking.”
Adil is currently living in Phoenix, Ariz., working as a receptionist in a hotel. He has recently been accepted to community college and hopes to eventually work in the field of migration. While attending school he will work part time to send money to his family who are living in a refugee camp in Kenya. He hopes to be reunited with them soon. Adil is a testament to the fact that despite external forces, the will to survive is one of the most powerful forces of all.
*Beth worked alongside Adil teaching Adult ESL classes at the General Worker’s Union in Valletta, Malta, in spring 2010. This story is printed with his permission.
**The views and opinions expressed in this blog do not necessarily reflect the position of the HTC