Posted April 13, 2010
As Ahmed Omar Hashi strode toward me, his figure silhouetted in the bright morning light, it was hard to believe this was the same man who left Mogadishu on a stretcher just six months earlier after suffering a near-fatal gunshot wound. As I reached to shake his hand, he pulled me into a bear hug.
Hashi, 43, news editor of Radio Shabelle in
With the help of regional human rights organizations, CPJ got Hashi on a flight out of
Surviving in a foreign country
Hashi insisted on meeting me in downtown
The Somali refugee population has been growing in
We entered Hashi’s walled compound through a rusty metal gate. The domestic scene that greeted us in the courtyard—children’s toys scattered beneath the colorful, billowing laundry hung up to dry—was far different from the dangerous circumstances he and his family left behind in Somalia. Hashi’s wife, Fartun, came out to greet me holding their youngest daughter, 1-year-old Caliya. Her older sister, mischievous 2-year-old Nahyan, ran at her father and was swung up in the air. “This one I sometimes call ‘Sherly’ after Sheryl Mendez at CPJ,” he told me smiling. Of his days in the hospital, Hashi recalls, “Sheryl used to call me every night and speak with me for at least two hours. So I never feel alone.”
Hashi’s three other children, the oldest of whom is 10, are living in
Hashi and his family share a three-bedroom home with four other Somali refugees, three of them journalists and one a journalist’s wife. There is a strong sense of solidarity among the exile Somali journalist community, even though most live far from one another and the cost and risk of getting together can be prohibitive. (While I was visiting with Hashi, though, 10 other exiled Somali journalists stopped in to tell me their stories and say thank you to CPJ.) Hashi benefited from this support network when he arrived in
Today, aside from the scars from two bullet wounds and some continuing chest pain, Hashi appears to have recovered from his attack. His emotional wounds, however, run much deeper and put a strain on his daily life. “Sometimes, when I’m walking, I dream,” he tells me. Referring to his slain colleague Hirabe, he adds, “I see my friend being shot in the head.” In these moments he has to sit down to avoid stumbling or being hit by a car, he says. Hashi can’t know for sure what prompted the Al-Shabaab attack as he and Hirabe were walking through
Whatever the reason, it was enough for someone to fire a gunshot into Hashi’s hospital room (it missed him because he was lying down) and for two Al-Shabaab operatives armed with explosives and pistols to return to the hospital the next day to ask about his whereabouts (the two were arrested by government forces).
The memories of the trauma Hashi endured in Mogadishu are intensified by the ongoing threat he perceives in Uganda, where low-security borders and a growing Somali refugee population make it possible for Al-Shabaab operatives to enter unnoticed. In December, he and many of his exiled colleagues received the same text message threat on their cell phones: They would never be safe in
For exiled journalists, many hurdles
Hashi faces many practical concerns as well. Since his arrival, he has relied on financial support from CPJ, the Kampala-based East and Horn of Africa Human Rights Defenders Project (which also paid for English lessons when he first arrived), and other human rights organizations, but this support will eventually come to an end.
When I ask about the possibility of finding work in
His biggest hope today is to reunite his family and move to a third country, preferably the
But Hashi has never been easily deterred.
As if to illustrate this point, Hashi’s wife brings out a copy of an Eritrean newspaper to show me. On the cover is Eritrean President Isaias Afewerki sitting across from an intent Hashi. He had been invited along with a handful of other international reporters to interview Afewerki on the occasion of
On his return to
Repeated attacks on his life, in fact, did bring his work to a stop. But Hashi said he is determined to make that a temporary situation, a professional hiatus instead of a termination. “I want to proceed [with] my work of journalism,” he told me. “I don’t want to stop. I want to work. I want to write about my country.”
As we said our good-byes, the first afternoon raindrops landing on the dusty road outside his house, I marveled at how far Hashi had come in six months and at the long, uncertain road that lay ahead as he tried to regroup his family and reestablish a sense of stability in their lives.
Karen Phillips is a freelance writer and consultant for CPJ’s Journalist Assistance Program.
Editor’s Note: The situation for Hashi and his family is not unique. CPJ’s Journalist Assistance program helps journalists at risk by advocating with the United Nations and foreign embassies for resettlement and offering limited financial assistance for these journalists’ material needs. We can’t do it alone. Visit our Journalist Assistance program and see how you can help.