Taking chances

Jamas Story

It’s a cold February afternoon in Stockholm. The temperature is below freezing and the deceptively beautiful, snowy landscape reflects light into the quickly darkening day.  Jama, a Somali refugee, is seated in the small interview room. Seemingly distant and forlorn, he’s possibly thinking over his current predicament.

Jama has just received word from the Swedish Migration Agency that he will be deported to Italy, where he originally registered as an asylum seeker. Like many refugees disappointed by the limited opportunities and provisions in Italy, he chose to try his luck by traveling north. Now his luck has run out.

His journey ostensibly unending, Jama recalls how it all began in Mogadishu.

“Back when I used to work I was always afraid and worried about whether I would get back home alive or dead” remembers Jama. “Sometimes you’d hear an explosion at work or while you were on the bus. That is the main reason I decided to flee.”

With the little money he’d saved, and without his family’s knowledge, Jama left Somalia with the aim of reaching Nairobi, Kenya. Life was not easy in Nairobi. Jama was arrested repeatedly for not having identification, and he managed to bail himself out every time. The situation led to his decision to move onwards to South Africa.

He traveled to the coastal city of Mombasa where he learned he could take a boat to Mozambique and then continue on to South Africa. The evening he was supposed to depart, word got to him that the boat that had left earlier had capsized. Coincidentally, that very same day, while Jama was watching a Somali satellite television station, he heard about the journey to Italy via Libya. Afraid he might suffer the same fate as those who’d drowned in the Indian Ocean, he decided to try his luck and travel to Libya—  though he knew, from stories, that it wouldn’t be much easier.

“Those who have travelled before me endured hardship and imprisonment. They really had a hard time. They said that life in Europe isn’t all that it’s made up to be. They shared that with me. But the problems I left behind are much worse.”

Watch Jama retell the experience of his journey:

“I was hoping that when I got to Europe I would get an education and all those things I’d heard about, like a place to stay, a white car, and money,” says Jama. “I haven’t gotten any of those things, and the conditions in Italy were hard for me.”

When Jama first arrived in Italy he applied for asylum and was provided with social assistance. However all this came to an abrupt end after six months, the maximum period in which refugees are provided accommodation by the state run “Protection System for Asylum Seekers and Refugees.” Jama found himself on the streets, hopelessly clueless about what his next steps might be.

“It feels like I’m trapped in a hellhole,” he says. “I thought to myself, let me find a better life outside of Italy, and that is when I came to Sweden.”

Once in Sweden, Jama re-applied for asylum. But now even that dream’s been deflated. At the time of this interview, Jama was awaiting news about his deportation. Alone and in limbo, all he can do is wait for the inevitable.

“They will send me back to Italy and when I get there I will have to start thinking what to eat and where to sleep,” he says.

Watch Jama talk about life in Europe:

Date of interview: 22 September 2016  |  Last modified: 22 September 2016  |
Interview by: Mohamed Jimale  |  Written by: Christa Awuor Odinga  |  Video by: Max-Michel Kolijn