A teenaged victim of Somalia’s war is another step closer to safety this week and holding out hope that he’ll find it in Canada.
Ismael Khalif Abdulle (pictured), the 18-year-old double amputee whose story inspired one Canadian man to rescue him from Mogadishu and started a movement here known as “Project Ismael,” has been recognized by the United Nations as a refugee in need of protection.
Ismael had escaped from Mogadishu to Nairobi last month with the help of an underground network of supporters.
But until he received status from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as someone in need of protection, and was given what’s known as a “mandate refugee certificate,” Ismael was at risk of being deported back to Somalia from Kenya.
UNHCR resettlement officials are now meeting with Ismael and trying to decide his future home. His case has been given high priority since he is still at risk in Nairobi due to the infiltration of Al Shabaab — the Somali-based movement that has been designated a terrorist group in both the U.S. and Canada.
Al Shabaab controls most of central and southern Somalia, including the neighbourhood where Ismael once lived. When he refused to join them in the summer of 2009, they kidnapped him with three other boys and publicly amputated their right hands and left feet as a warning to others.
The other three young men are still hiding and their whereabouts are unknown.
Reached in Nairobi on Friday, Ismael said he was adjusting to life outside of Somalia and trying to learn English — before he tries to tackle Swahili.
He said he told the UNHCR resettlement officer that he had hoped Canada would accept him as a refugee.
“She asked me where I wanted to go and I said, ‘Canada.’ But she told me Canada is going to be quite tough and would you go anywhere else? I said, my preference is Canada but anywhere I could be safe would be fine,” he said.
Applications processed through Nairobi’s Canadian High Commission are among the slowest in the world, partly due to the volume of applications. And while there has been an outpouring of support for Ismael within Toronto’s Somali community and among the city’s social agencies, he does not have a close relative here.
Ismael’s father has died and his mother and siblings still live in Somalia.
Three of his siblings from his father’s first marriage, however, have offered to support him in Norway and Finland where they had lived for the last two decades since leaving Somalia.
“We’ve been trying to do what we can,” said Saido, his 42-year-old half-sister in a telephone interview from Finland.
The mother of four said she has been so touched by the outpouring of support by Canadians for her little brother.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
The Toronto Star:
Posted by BA Haller at 7:14 PM