All Rahma Hussein Noor wants is a chance to complete her education and make her mark in the world. And heaven knows that the 19-year-old has fought hard for it.
On Thursday last week, the world marked Day of the African Child, whose theme was “Conflict and Crisis in Africa: Protecting All Children Rights”. This theme highlights the fate of children like Rahma, whose lives have been shattered by the ongoing insecurity in Somalia.
While most 13 year olds were studying to pass their Class Eight exams, Rahma was escaping a war-torn Somalia, making her way into Kenya in 2009. By the time her family settled in Dadaab, the then 13-year-old Rahma had never attended any class.
“The fact that I did not know how to read or write meant that the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) could not enroll me into school at once. So they arranged for extra tuition in basic literacy for one year. After that, I joined class five,” she explains.
It was tough going, because she did not have the foundation of lower classes. She, however, managed 213 marks in the Kenya Certificate of Primary Education and was enrolled at Waberi Secondary School inside the camp. While in Form Two her parents decided to go back to Somalia last year through a voluntary repatriation programme.
She tried to resist: “But my parents convinced me,” said Rahma.
FAMILY RESETTLED IN MOGADISHU
But once the family resettled in Mogadishu, efforts to get Rahma into a nearby secondary school failed: “I stayed at home for two months and then my father decided that it was time to marry me off since clearly my education had come to a halt,” she said.
The man her father betrothed her to was over 50 years old, someone she had never met.
It was then that she started seeking help to come back to Kenya. Even though she would be apart from her family, at the refugee camp, she would be able to get education and would be away from the old man who wanted to marry her.
“I had opened a Facebook account while at Dadaab and although Somalia had no functioning phone lines, I had access to my neighbour’s wifi. I got in touch with a friend who had won a scholarship to a university in Canada. He sent me Sh15,000. I sneaked and got into a bus to Dadaab taking eight days,” said Rahma.
She was forced to move in with the people who used to be her neighbours.
“I was lucky they took me in because I have not been re-registered as a refugee by UNHCR,” says Rahma.
Her situation is worsened because without proper registration, Rahma is essentially an illegal immigrant. This means that she does not enjoy any protection by the UNHCR. In addition, she cannot sit for the Form Four national exam.
“This has, however ,not stopped me from trying my best in school ,” she says.
The UNHCR position is that after the disbandment of the Department of Refugees Agency, its hands are tied and it cannot register Rahma. So for now, her fate is in limbo. It has been seven months since she came back to Dadaab.
Monday is World Refugee Day, possibly the last one that Rahma will celebrate at Dadaab, if the government closes the camp.
This leaves her with no choice but to travel back to Mogadishu to mend fences with her family.