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From Somalia to Grand Rapids: How one refugee fled to U.S., escaped terrorism

May 25, 2017

Ali Warsame's journey to become a permanent, legal resident of Michigan was long and difficult.

He fled the war in his homeland of Somalia, which is one of the six majority-Muslim countries included in President Trump's revised travel ban. Before eventually reaching Grand Rapids, he passed through Ethiopia, Russia, Ukraine and Europe.

He was a teenager when he left Somalia. He told Stateside that one of the reasons he had to leave was that he felt pressure from terrorist groups, which were recruiting young people to join them.

“Everybody needed to run away in order to be safe,” he said. “I was young, there was kind of pressure on most of the young people who were recruited. So if I didn’t end up here, you never know where I would be today.”

Warsame began his journey to the U.S. with a cousin, but the rest of his family remained in Somalia. At times, it appeared unlikely that he would find a country where he would be welcomed. After being caught trying to cross from the Ukraine into Slovakia, he spent six months in a detention center.

But while he was serving that sentence, he caught a break. He was enrolled in a U.N. resettlement program, which brought him to the U.S. in December, 2013.

He said that after arriving in the U.S., he felt like he was home.

“I finally feel like I’m a human being again, you know? Like grief, and then when I see people, they are so happy, so welcoming,” Warsame said. “And the way they treat me, like despite people having different religion, different background, different ethnicities, I see people living together.”

After moving to Grand Rapids, he enrolled at Kentwood High School. There he took English as a second language (ESL) classes, and today he is a student at Grand Rapids Community College. He also works as an interpreter for other refugees.

Since the beginning of the year, however, the opportunities for refugees who hope to reach the U.S. have declined. A new report shows that the number of refugees re-settled across the United States has dropped sharply over the past six months. In Michigan, refugee resettlements fell from 568 last October to 168 in April 2017.

Warsame said that he was shocked when he learned that Somalia had been included in the Trump administration’s travel ban (which has since been overturned by a federal court).

“Most refugees, they run away from terrorists,” he told us. “If they ban them from coming here, then who else is going to help them?”

Listen to our full interview with Ali Warsame above.

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