A terrifying childhood experience at the US border exposed me to the realities of being stateless.
On 12 December 1994, I was born. Born without a country – considered by the United Nations to be legally stateless.
I gained this status due to unfortunate circumstances. In the 1980s, my Somali parents were approaching the peak of their lives. My dad was a civil engineer and had started a business in Mogadishu, while my mum was training to be a nurse. This all changed in 1991, when the Somali civil war broke out.
My dad was stubborn and did not want to leave the life he had created, but was persuaded by my mum when the gunfire reached their neighbourhood. Their plan was to reach the port and then take a boat to the Kenyan city of Mombasa. Along the way my mum and dad were separated. My mother managed to make it to the port and – despite her boat sinking – was able to make it to Mombasa. My dad, however, went missing for three months, but was finally reunited with my mum. He never told me what happened during those months, but I later learned that he was tortured and suffered severe hearing loss.
And so I was born in Kenya. Our life there was precarious, and our future uncertain. My status only complicated our situation; I had no passport and no citizenship, which meant many countries would not even consider our applications. But this changed in 1997, when Canada implemented a special undocumented class of refugees. And in February of 1997, we gained asylum there.
The Canadian government assigned us to Edmonton, Alberta – a northern city in western Canada. We arrived in the dead of winter. It was my first time seeing snow. In fact, my sister convinced me that snow was sugar, so I placed a bunch of it in my backpack, which obviously later melted.
This was my introduction to Canada. Being young, I did not know that I was different. I felt like any other Canadian kid. I learned how to skate – badly. I had snowball fights, and would proudly defend poutine as a Canadian cuisine. This mindset only changed when I joined a youth military programme called Air Cadets. It was a free programme that kept me busy while my parents were working. Since their education was not recognised, my dad worked in a meat packing plant while my mum worked as a janitor.
I quickly rose up through the ranks and was tasked with teaching classes to younger cadets. It was surreal, because I was teaching young cadets about citizenship when I wasn’t a citizen of anywhere.
I became hyper aware of being different when our squadron planned a trip to Cape Canaveral, Florida, to learn about the space industry and see the Space Shuttle and the launch site where Apollo 11 had left the Earth. As a kid who was extremely interested in space (my most prized possession was a photo of me back-to-back with …read more
Source:: New Statesman