Hell to Heartland: For Anfa and Family, a Reunion 3 Years and a Lifetime in the Making

October 02, 2017 01:38 PM

The story of a 3-year-old refugee who was living in the world's largest refugee camp came full circle at the Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport on Thursday night. 

The days of living in a hot, dusty hut in the middle in Dadaab, Kenya, are over. Many would consider it the one of the toughest place to live on earth. 

The longing for parents who saw her grow up only on pictures and video are over.

Anfa Abdullahi made it from hell to the heartland. 

RELATED: Hell to Heartland: 'I am Anfa'

It was a journey of nearly 10,000 miles and hundreds of days. And for Anfa's mother, the most excruciating part came at the end. 

"Ten minutes," said Anfa's mother, Fahmo Gedi Ali. "Ten minutes as good as 10 hours." 

Time flew so slowly in those 10 minutes that Anfa was in the air somewhere over the Twin Cities. Gedi Ali and her husband, Ali Abdullahi, have lost count of the hours and minutes they ached and wept for their baby. It took three years of working through the complicated U.S. immigrant system to bring Anfa to America. 

Gedi Ali and Abdullahi were forced to leave Anfa with her grandparents in the camp when Anfa was just a few months old. Gedi Ali, Abdullahi and their two young boys got refugee status in the U.S. just when Anfa was born. 

MORE: Hell to Heartland

All refugees must go through an extreme vetting process that includes background checks and interviews with a U.S. immigration officer, and Anfa was too young to be interviewed. Fahmo and Abdullahi said one of their sons needed medical care to insure he wouldn't go blind. So the couple left Dadaab and settled in St. Cloud. 

They tried for three years to navigate the immigration system to bring Anfa and her grandparents -- also in Dadaab -- to America. The couple said the process stalled in February when President Trump signed an executive order preventing refugees from certain countries from entering the U.S. 

We went to find Anfa on our Hell to Heartland reporting trip to Kenya and Somalia. Anfa's story then was on the radar of Congressman Tom Emmer, who stepped in to help Anfa and her family. 

RELATED: Hell to Heartland: Humanitarian Crisis in Somalia Goes Beyond Hunger

There were many setbacks along the way, but finally, a few weeks ago, Anfa and her parents got word Anfa could come to America. Gedi Ali said, "It was hard to imagine, but my daughter is coming, oh my God, I get Anfa, I'm so excited." 

The couple waited anxiously for the Delta Air Lines flight to land Thursday. Anfa had travelled for 24 hours with a worker from the International Organization for Migration named Amina. They boarded the plane in Nairobi before flying to Amsterdam and then Chicago, where Anfa cleared customs. 

Delta agents were aware of Anfa's impending arrival, so a Minneapolis-based agent helped her Amina work their way through Amsterdam and Chicago; Delta allowed the parents and a KSTP crew to come to the gate to meet Anfa. 

The 10,000 mile journey was about to end.     

Her parents saw Anfa walk up the ramp with Amina.

Amina lifted Anfa above the rail and handed the precious cargo to two parents who cried when they saw their child. 

Gedi Ali said initially that Anfa didn't realize she was in her mother's arms. But she kept telling her, "I'm your mother," and in one of those moments, Anfa hugged her. 

"She told me, 'I love you, mom,'" Gedi Ali said. 

We asked Gedi Ali if Anfa knew where she was. When she relayed the question to Anfa in Somali, Anfa said, "I'm in America now!"

Now in the U.S., Anfa was reunited with family -- perhaps most importantly, her grandfather. Anfa's grandparents had waited for months for Anfa's passage to be approved. But the delays in her process jeopardized her grandparents' journey to America. So they left her with family a few months ago to come to Minnesota.

When Anfa saw her grandfather, she ran and hugged him. He kissed her and they held each other.   

Her mother said she's reading to Anfa and teaching her words in English to prepare her for school. On the night she arrived, she met her brothers for the first time since she was born. They bonded immediately. 

The journey of thousands of miles and hundreds of days from Africa was over for Anfa. And a new one in America is just beginning.

Connect with KSTP

Join the conversation on our social media platforms. Share your comments on our Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages.


Farrah Fazal

Copyright 2020 - KSTP-TV, LLC A Hubbard Broadcasting Company

75 new deaths, 6,337 cases reported in Minnesota

An inside look at Regions Hospital's battle against COVID-19

How scientists are tracking the coronavirus through its own genetic makeup

Minneapolis police investigating after family car stolen with 2 dogs inside

Minnesota Supreme Court dismisses GOP lawsuit trying to stop election certification