Pregnant and detained without trial or charge
“HHUGS never felt like a charity organisation, more like family”
To be honest with you, I really didn’t think we’d come out of that desert alive. At night we would hear the hyenas, and we couldn’t sleep. In the daytime there were the fighter jets overhead, so often we had to hide in the bush during the daytime and continue walking after dark. By the third week we were separated into small groups, and with me there were just four other sisters, including my sister in-law, and there were the kids and the two brothers who were taking us to safety.
We were ambushed somewhere near the Kenyan border. It happened at Fajr time, right after we’d finished praying, and Yusuf and the brothers, had gone to collect water as they did every morning. Suddenly the soldiers opened fire, and it was everywhere; the sound of gunfire; the smell of it. We ducked under a tree and that’s when I saw we were surrounded by African combatants. Then I saw the Tunisian sister. She had only just handed me the baby, and she was lying there in the open. I kept telling her to just come, but she showed me her hands, they were covered in blood, and she was 5 months pregnant.
I don’t know who the troops were. One of them could understand Somali. The rest of them I believe were Kenyan. There was one white soldier. They stole any money and jewellery we had; they ripped off our hijabs and clothes, strip searched us; and they were filming and taunting us. We felt humiliated, the way they would laugh. Later, two soldiers took me to identify one of the brothers who’d been guiding us to safety. They had shot him. They asked us if there had been anyone else with us, and we said there was a child, Yusuf, and another man. And they wouldn’t look for him. They told us they were combatants and it wasn’t their job to find children.
In Kenya we were blindfolded and handcuffed and taken to a military base. There we saw so many men, in terrible conditions, stripped down to their shorts and with their hands and feet bound. And the Tunisian sister who was shot in the back, they had her on a stretcher with handcuffs on. They just had no mercy.
They kept us for five days, and there was interrogation after interrogation. On the last night, they came and snatched the kids from me. Yusuf was still missing, but the two girls, I had to leave them. They were screaming after me. That was the hardest thing for me, because their mum passed away in our arms, and their dad, we didn’t know where he was and I became so protective of them… it was difficult. I hope they’re ok.
They took us to the airport and put us on a plane back to Mogadishu. The conditions in Kenya and Mogadishu were inhuman. I don’t just mean the treatment and the threats we received from the officials, but they didn’t care whether we ate, or had anything to drink. The baby had a horrible rash and we had no nappies, but they didn’t care. We were crammed into a tiny, freezing cell, and they brought more women; I think there maybe 28 of us in total, and so many children. There was literally no room, and we were stuffed in this cell for 10 days, with the children being sick and the women were all sick.
The Ethiopian and Somali officials took turns interrogating us. With me it wasn’t just ‘Who do you know?’ but ‘Why did you convert?’ and ‘How can you grow up in Europe, be educated in Europe and still think there is a God?’ It was as if they were trying to break us. I have to admit, with everything that was happening around us -the torture, the psychological abuse, what we heard was being done to the brothers- there were times I envied the sister that died.
Things got a little bit easier when I was taken to the detention centre in Ethiopia. They provided bedding and clothes. Treatment was better. I think by then it had got the media’s attention so they had to be more sensitive. That’s where I found out my brother had been killed at the border.
I was called once for questioning by a lady from the MI5. She said she’d let me know about my husband’s situation when she found out. She asked some questions, showed me pictures of men I didn’t recognise. I told her I’d never seen them but she didn’t seem convinced. Then after three months, they said I was free to go. Just like that. Even while they held us, they knew we weren’t involved in any groups. They knew that we were just civilians, vulnerable women who happened to be in that place when the war broke out. In all that time, there was no trial; I was never charged.