The early 1990s were a terrible time in Somalia. When Minneapolis residents Mohamed Hassan and Gandi Mohamed fled in 1991, the country was in turmoil. War was raging and thousands of refugees were trying to get out of the country.
They say the situation is worse now.
Incidents of hijacking of oil tankers by Somali pirates have increased dramatically recently and there are local reports of Minneapolis teens and young adult men “disappearing” from the Twin Cities, apparently being flown back to Somalia to fight in the civil war. In Mogadishu, crime, poverty and violence are rampant. Chaos reigns.
According to Hassan and Mohamed, the Somali government is ineffective and corrupt. Warlords and tribal factions have been allowed to take power. Two years ago, troops from neighboring Ethiopia entered the country and have occupied it since then. The U.S. government, concerned about stopping terrorism in the region, has supported this incursion. But thousands of innocent Somalis, including many women and children, have been killed and injured by the Ethiopian army.
Hassan left the capital city of Mogadishu when he was 18, fleeing on foot in what he thinks was a southerly direction. He made it to Kenya. After some time in a refugee camp, he came to the United States and lived in Maine. After stops in Dallas and Nashville, he eventually found his way to the growing Somali community in Minneapolis.
Mohamed was younger when he left. He and his family lived in a refugee camp for nearly three years, where his younger sister died of malnutrition. He came directly to Minneapolis from Kenya, attending Sanford Middle School, North High and then transferring to Roosevelt High School, graduating in 1999. He went to college and joined the Air Force, doing a tour of duty in Iraq at the beginning of the war.
Both men are U.S. citizens. They have no plans to move back to Somalia. But because it is their homeland and they still have friends and family there, they are very concerned about the current situation and the future of that country as well as the East Africa region. Hassan says he talks regularly to family members in Somalia who are fearful they could be killed at any time.
Hassan heads Somali Cause, an organization that is trying to raise awareness about the situation in Somalia as well as provide humanitarian assistance to the country. Hassan received some video from friends in Somali that shows some of the effects of the violence and lawlessness that is Somalia today. Some of those images can be seen in my video interview with Hassan and Mohamed.