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Mogadishu Calls For Some Somalis In Columbus
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Thousands of Somalis came to Columbus during the past 20 years to escape civil war. Columbus soon had the second largest Somali community in the United States. The immigrants set up businesses, enrolled in schools and made new lives for themselves.
But now some are returning home. A small group of Somalis are going back with hopes of rebuilding the devastated African nation.
At a café inside the Global Mall on Morse road, a handful of men talk in Somali. One watches a television broadcast of news from Somalia. Behind the counter, 22-year-old Guled Igal, helps his mother serve customers. But Igal’s thoughts often turn to his dad who recently returned to Mogadishu. He recalls asking his father why he went back.
“I’m like dad, why did you go there. Why don’t you just come back, you could get a job here,” says Igal.
Igal’s father is among a small group of Somalis in Columbus who have chosen to return their homeland even at a time when security and governance are fragile.
“He told me about all the fighting that’s still going on. And they’re still trying to reconstruct the city but there’s a lot of warlords, there’s a lot of, you know, terrorists, Al Shabab, people that want to blow themselves up still in Mogadishu right now,” Igal says.
Before the war, Mogadishu was a city of two and half million people with glistening beaches on the east Coast of Africa. Twenty two years of civil war has destroyed many of the city’s buildings and left others pock-marked by bullets. The beaches are polluted and have been used as launch points for Somali pirates.
Despite the trouble, 34-year-old Ahmed Adan moved back to Mogadishu from Columbus in January. He works with the new government. During a telephone conversation from Mogadishu he says while sporadic fighting still occurs, the time of civil war is over. On most days, he says, “life goes normal.”
“There is a lot of people coming back and I have been actually actively talking to people in Columbus, in Minnesota and other parts of the United States to people that I know,” Adan says.
Adan says he returned to Somalia because he wants to help his homeland out of a crisis. He says Mogadishu is changing from something that was almost a “ghost town” to someplace that is actually livable.
“It’s really tough. I’m not saying it’s easy, the transition from Columbus to Mogadishu. But, yes, I mean, things are improving here and I’m very happy to be a part of this government,” Adan says.
The head of the Somali Community Association on Cleveland Avenue says 54 people from Columbus have returned to Mogadishu. At the Franklin County Council on Aging, caseworker Loodar Dafur, sees a slight drop in demand recently for elderly services among Somalis.
“When I’m speaking Somali, I’m speaking half English and half Somali most of the time,” says Dafur.
Like Guled Igal, Dafur came to Columbus as a young child after spending time in a refugee camp. She has few remembrances of Somalia. But she hears about it constantly, from her mother.
“A lot of people when they came here at older age, they long for, like my mother, she’s always longed for her house, her farm and all of that. And she hopes that one day she will go back to her home,” Dafur says.
A lot will depend on whether a peace takes hold in Mogadishu. International backers of Somalia’s new president are working toward a permanent peace giving financial help and recruiting those willing to return.
Basra Mohamed is a Somali language radio host for a community station in Columbus. Her weekly programs are heard not only here but in other U.S. cities with large Somali populations. She says the pull toward Somalia is felt wherever refugees have fled.
“Not just Columbus, but people are going from Minneapolis, going from Portland, Maine, going from all the other, not just one place, even in Europe, people are going back to Somalia.” We lost a lot, we lost so much and going back means gaining some normality and getting sense of normality and finding yourself, I think,” Says Mohamed.