After witnessing the heinous act, the 27-year-old illiterate Shegow decided he would have to start a new life elsewhere, and so he sought the help of a Mogadishu-based human-trafficking agency, the Hayat Agency, to find greener pastures. The agents promised Shegow that they would deliver him to Naples, in Italy, where, he was promised, there would be a good job waiting for him. To Shegow’s bad luck, the broker representing the Hayat Agency deliberately transported the hapless emigrant to Nepal, through Dubai, in March 2006.
“I found that I had been cheated only after I had landed in Nepal, a place that I’ve found to be far different from what I’d imagined Italy’s Naples to be,” says the now thirty-year-old Shegow.
That rerouting to Nepal has turned Shegow into an officially classified refugee: For the last three years, Shegow has been living in Lazimpat, Kathmandu, as a refugee whose refugee status has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR).
A Somali boy participates in a protest program in front of Singha Durbar, Nepal´s main administrative building on Wednesday. Bijay Rai
“We can’t go back to Somalia because the Hawiyes can kill us anytime they want. So we want Nepal’s government to recognize us as refugees, as victims of the violence back home,” says Shegow, who got designated a refugee by the UNHCR in October 2006. Since that date, the UNHCR has been providing Rs 4,250 a month to Shegow and each of his fellow refugees, who mostly live in Lazimpat, Ranibari, Baluwatar, Gothatar, and Galkupakha.
The story of how Sayeed Hasan, another Somali refugee living in Kathmandu, got here follows the same plotline as Shegow’s.
“My mother wanted to send me to a peaceful place after my father and two brothers were killed in the ethnic cleansing that was taking place back home; I myself had three bullets riddled into my neck and chest,” says Hasan. “So I fled my conflict-torn country, with my three children and my wife, dreaming that I would live a prosperous life in Naples.” But Hasan instead ended up in Nepal; he arrived here in May 2006, via Qatar and Mumbai.
“When I got here,” says Hasan, “I checked into a hotel and asked a person I met outside the hotel if he could tell me how to get from my hotel to the center of Naples. And that fellow, who was first shocked to find out how lost I was, later couldn’t stop laughing at the tragicomic predicament I’d found myself in. I learned from him that I was not in Naples, north of Africa, but in Nepal, north of India.”
A Somali girl participates in a protest program in front of Singha Durbar, Nepal´s main administrative building on Wednesday. Bijay Rai
It’s not just Somalis who have become refugees here. The area around the horn of Africa and the troubled Middle-East region has been the place of provenance for a new brand of refugees who arrived in Nepal between 2005 and 2007. Hasan Al Badry, for example, is a refugee from Iraq. He made his way here, through Dubai and New Delhi, after his wife and his three children were killed by Shiites because Badry used to work at the US base in Baghdad.
Until now, people like Shegow, Hasan and Badry have called Nepal home. But they also know that they need to start their lives anew, to start living as emigrants in a land where they can pursue their dreams. And that is why some of these refugees staged a sit-in program on April 8, in front of Singha Durbar. The group, made up of 72 refugees, which congregated near the Southern Gate was demanding that the Nepal government recognize all the petitioners as refugees and that the Nepal government help them get resettled in a third country.
For many of them, Naples may be a dream forever deferred, but if the group’s demands are met, the refugees will have at least three options in hand —repatriation to their homeland, third country resettlement, or integration into the local communities in the host country.