Stalwart Somali refugee isn’t ‘going back’ anytime soon
A refugee’s journey: Abdi Aden has laid bare his heart in detailing the dark days of fleeing war-torn Somalia and coming to Australia. Picture: Darren HoweA CRAIGIEBURN man forced to flee his home in war-torn Somalia in 1991 is about to tell Australia his story of survival and courage.
Abdi Aden will feature in the second series of the SBS documentary Go Back To Where You Came From, which airs tonight.
The documentary follows the journey of six prominent Australians – Angry Anderson, Peter Reith, Catherine Deveny, Imogen Bailey, Michael Smith and Allan Asher – to experience the reality of refugee life.
They were split into two groups, with one visiting Somalia, the other Kabul in Afghanistan.
Both groups visited refugee camps and local families and saw the squalor of everyday life.
They met men involved in people smuggling operations with Christmas Island as their destination.
Before they embarked on the three-week journey, three of the Australians were taken to Mr Aden’s house in Craigieburn to learn about his experience of coming to Australia.
Mr Aden told the Weekly last week it was a good opportunity to be a part of the television show and raise the profile of Somalia.
He recalls clearly the day in 1991 when bombs began to rain down around his home in Mogadishu, signalling the beginning of Somalia’s civil war.
Abdi fled at age 13 with 312 others and headed for Kenya. He was separated from his family, not knowing if they were alive or dead.
On the way to Kenya, Somalian death squads hunted them down. A group of teenage boys was caught and lined up to be executed.
Mr Aden says the bullets missed him but he fell to the ground and faked death to survive.
After three and a half months, only five of the 312 who had set out on the journey survived and reached Kenya.
“I remember feeling petrified. I thought my heart would stop when we were going from Somalia to Kenya,” he says.
“I said to myself that if I ever make it I’m going to be the best person and I’m going to appreciate everything.”
He was 15 when he arrived in Melbourne with fake documents.
Homeless for the first year, he slept in churches and mosques.
“I wanted people to know two things: one is that the general public needs to realise that refugees are not coming here for the sake of it,” he says.
“They’re coming here from war and violence.
“And the second thing is for Somalian people to basically stop thinking badly; Somalia needs them.
“When I was younger I had the best education in the best community. I had good parents who loved me and I was going to become a pilot or a teacher.
“I want the Australian community to know that refugees are the same as the rest of the community.”
Mr Aden says he thought his outspoken manner could have ruined the show, but he adds that he’s happy with the outcome.
“I didn’t realise how hard it was to do the show.
“I went through hell thinking about Somalia and how people are dying. A lot of people say I’m brave, but I think I have to do something,” he says.
“It was really a good opportunity to help [raise the profile of] Somalia, which has been in war the last 21 years.
“I decided that I was ready to do something, because before that I was young, but now I’m experienced and older and ready to help Somalia.
“You can’t run away from the country you’re born in. It’s time to turn around and do something about it.”
Mr Aden studied community development at Victoria University and has been a youth worker for the past 10 years. Last year at Melbourne University, he completed a postgraduate degree in adolescent mental health.
Mr Aden has lived in Craigieburn for 10 years with his wife and three sons. His mother, with whom he was reunited in 1996, also lives with his family.
To this day, he doesn’t know if his father is dead or alive.