I fled Somalia in 1991

Because of the Somali civil war. It was a dirty war between clans. I had never really paid attention to that – who belonged to which clan. We’re all Somali, and that’s it.

I left when there was yet nothing to worry about. I was 19 years old and a professional basketball player in the women’s national team. We got to represent Somalia in the African championships held in Ethiopia. So exciting! I said goodbye to my family and would see them again in 40 days. My father dropped me off at the airport. That turned out to be the last time I would ever see him.

In Nairobi I slept on the street, illegal, without any money

While our team was in Ethiopia, civil war broke out in Somalia. We received messages about it here and there during our games, but didn’t fully realise what was happening. It was only later that we heard that several family members of teammates had been murdered already. Nearly my entire team stayed, everyone had received the same advice from their parents: do not come back here! We decided to request asylum in Ethiopia, but it was denied. The next step was Kenya, where I ended up in Nairobi after being in a provisional refugee camp. I slept on the street, illegal, without any money.

Suddenly I remembered that we had stayed in the same hotel in Ethiopia as the Kenyan basketball team. After lots of asking around, I found out that one of the girls worked at a bank. I spent days going into every single bank just to find her. And it worked! She got us a place to sleep and from then on, I was able to save money in order to continue travelling. That was only possible with the help of human traffickers. They have offices there. I had to pay 800 dollars and they would find me a safe country. I worked extremely hard to get the money together. I cleaned houses, braided hair, looked after children.

After 8 months, I saved enough and went back to the traffickers’ office. I was told to come back with my suitcase the next day, and that I’d be taken to the airport. But after we arrived at the airport, we were told that we couldn’t depart today. And that’s what we were told the next day, and the day after that. We went to the airport every single day for two months. And for two months, I didn’t manage to leave the country. I started worrying that I had spent those 800 dollars on nothing and had simply lost all that money.

Then the day finally came: we waited in a little room at the airport and all received an envelope with money and a plane ticket. Mine said ‘Holland’. My heart was beating out of my chest when I got to ‘my’ plane. Big letters read ‘KLM’. I was terrified and nervous, could I really just walk into the plane? I tried, showed my ticket, and could take a seat!

I had bruises and pain everywhere, but at the same time I felt like I had nothing to lose

In the Netherlands policemen at Schiphol Airport wanted to send me back to Kenya. I realised that I had to come up with an emergency plan to get out of this situation. I threw myself down a high staircase, and pretended to be unconscious. I had bruises and pain everywhere, but at the same time felt like I had nothing to lose.

I spent a few days in hospital and someone from the UN came to talk to me. I told him my entire story. Then I was allowed to stay, because they realised that I was not from Kenya but from Somalia. I got a train ticket and was told to report myself to an asylum centre in Groningen.

I never saw my father again, since he waved me off

I was able to get in contact with my sister a while later. She told me that half of our family had been murdered. Luckily my parents were still alive, they had fled to Kenya as well. My father died of diabetes a few years later. I hadn’t seen him since he waved me off at the airport as I went to Ethiopia.

And now I met a Dutch man in the asylum centre. His father was a counsellor there and he came by regularly. It was love at first sight! We’ve been together for 23 years now, and we have three children. I work as a child-minder and in the hospitality industry. But I still play basketball too!