Hell to Heartland: 'I am Anfa'

May 01, 2017 10:34 PM

It's the last place on earth you'd want to live.

However, it's the only place hundreds of thousands of people are living, trapped in the world's second-largest refugee camp.


Many of the people in this city of thorns have family across Minnesota. They are separated from their loved ones 8,000 miles away.

More than 700 days of torture and more than two long years of heartbreak quantify the last hug, the last kiss, the last time a mother in St. Cloud held her 3-year-old daughter.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS talked to Fahmo Gedi Ali in her tiny apartment before a news crew left for the Horn of Africa to spend 18 days watching suffering, dodging areas where terrorists rape, kidnap and kill people, where the hopeless and helpless exist, where life is cheap, hope is hard to find and almost everybody wants to escape hell to come to the heartland.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS took a message from Fahmo to her daughter, living in the land of broken dreams and last resorts, where the desperate breathe and die. It's an open prison called Dadaab. Children like Fahmo's daughter Anfa make up the majority of refugees there.

The ties that bind her are broken.

"It's really painful, it's really painful," Fahmo said.

She, her husband and their sons were approved for refugee status to the U.S. almost three years ago.

"As we were waiting for the flight, Anfa was born," Fahmo said.

Anfa didn't have refugee status; she was just days old.

The U.S. requires refugees to go through an extreme vetting and security process. They have to interview with a U.S. immigration officer. Anfa obviously couldn't give an interview. Fahmo had a choice: She could come to the U.S. and find a pathway to bring her child and her parents to freedom, or she could give up her refugee status in the U.S. and raise her family in a cage of misery.

MORE: Hell to Heartland

Less than one percent of people in the world qualify for refugee status. Fahmo made the unimaginable decision to leave Anfa behind with her parents.

"I go to my mom's home and give to her. (Anfa) was really crying," Fahmo said. She couldn't finish her sentence. The sadness of that day overwhelmed her as she was telling the story, and she walked away from the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS cameras, the pain streaming through her tears and across her face.

Anfa's brothers and parents are among thousands of families in Minnesota separated from their loved ones in Dadaab.

One out of five Somalis in Minnesota have family in the refugee camp. One out of three went through the camp before they resettled in Minnesota.

"The only thing we want is to live together," Fahmo said.

She and her family are stringing their broken bonds together by believing and reuniting. A 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS reporter recorded a message from Fahmo, her husband and Anfa's brothers on her phone to take with her to Anfa in Dadaab.

"We love you, we miss you big, one day we will be here together," Fahmo said in the message.

The message was delivered down a long rocky, dusty, dangerous road to find Anfa. 

A field producer tracked them down in a small area of the camp. Anfa's grandfather was waiting for the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS crew.

As Anfa watched her mother through the message on the phone, she brought her lips closer to the phone and kissed it.

Anfa's grandparents said it breaks their hearts to watch how much their granddaughter misses her mother.

"I almost cried, I felt pain in the heart, so when Anfa was crying, I felt like crying also," Anfa's grandmother said.

She said she also misses her daughter, Fahmo, and wants to come to the United States to reunite with her.

Fahmo sent a gift of a new outfit and a hijab for Anfa. As her grandparents helped her put on the new clothes, Anfa asked in a tiny, but strong, voice: "Have you seen my mother? Where is she?"

The reporter told Anfa she'd seen her mother and that her mother missed her very much. Anfa has been yearning for her mother for two long years. She and her grandparents got their ticket to come to the U.S. for the first time last November.

Anfa had one more step before she could be cleared go to the U.S. with her grandparents. They'd already been approved for refugee status. Anfa needed to do an interview with a U.S. immigration officer in Africa. But a security situation shut down all access in and out of the camp, and Anfa couldn't make it to the interview. The interview was rescheduled for February.

As she was on her way to see the immigration officer, U.S. President Donald Trump signed his first executive order to stop Muslim refugees from coming to the United States.

Anfa's process and the possibility of reuniting with her mother came to a grinding halt.

"It's heartbreaking for us, because Anfa thinks there will be every opportunity to unite with her mother. We feel sorry for her and we feel sorry for us," Anfa's grandfather said.

While they wait, life goes on. Anfa, her uncle and her grandmother walk several miles of tough terrain once a month to get food rations from the United Nations.

They'll get half the oil, half the sorghum, half the maize they used to get. Contributions to the World Food Programme from countries around the world are down 60 percent. 

Anfa and her family will carry the food back home on the same unforgiving road that brought them to pick up the food. They are trapped in this land of broken dreams and last resorts, but they're still dreaming of leaving this hell, to come to the heartland.

While the 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS crew was traveling through Africa and telling Anfa's story on social media, an immigration lawyer in St. Cloud told us Anfa's story compelled her to represent Anfa's parents.

She called Congressman Tom Emmer's office to ask his help with Anfa's case. 5 EYEWITNESS NEWS also calls Emmer's office every week.

Barbara Harper at Emmer's office is lobbying immigration officers in Africa to interview Anfa. She said the congressman is "treating this matter with urgency."

So far, the immigration officers haven't scheduled Anfa for an interview, and they aren't explaining the delay. They did say the interview would happen soon.

If Anfa is able to get an interview with U.S. immigration officers and they sign off on her application for refugee status, Anfa could soon be cleared for a flight to come to the U.S. to be with her mother.

5 EYEWITNESS NEWS will stay on top of Anfa's story, and will bring you developments as they happen.


Farrah Fazal

Copyright 2017 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company


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