Resilience: One Refugee’s Story

In the last 3 decades, Minnesota has resettled more than 95,000 refugees–the largest groups being Hmong, Somali, and Vietnamese. Among our students, roughly 70% arrived in the United States as refugees.
On March 6, 2005, Rukhia left her home in Somalia to find work in Dubai. When her husband died while she was pregnant with their third child, she took on the role of both “the mother and the father.”

Suddenly responsible for her family’s financial support, she was forced to leave her newborn and 2 small children with their grandmother, while she went in search of income.

In Dubai, Rukhia found a job as a housekeeper and worked there for 3 years. The job was physically demanding, and she missed home desperately. During this time, the political stability in Somalia worsened to the point where return was not an option.

Rukhia left Dubai when she became pregnant again. She knew there were complications with the baby, but she was unauthorized to work in Dubai, so she was afraid to seek aid. She decided to journey to Jordan when others told her that the United Nations could help her there.

In Jordan, doctors told her she would have to pay $2000 for a c-section. Without it, she and her baby would die. She was alone, without family or friends, but the UN agreed to cover the cost.

The UN also accepted Rukhia as a refugee, providing shelter and a little money for food. She spent the next 2 years living in a refugee camp in Jordan. She explains that this time is indescribable. Simply put–horrific. The worst part was the feeling of powerlessness, of having no idea how long she would be there.

In 2009, Rukhia finally interviewed with the US Embassy in hopes of immigrating. She passed the interview, and they told her to go back to camp and wait. One year later, the call came congratulating her because she was going to America! After three years of waiting, she was sick with happiness and disbelief.

When Rukhia and her 2-year-old daughter arrived in Minneapolis, she didn’t know a single person or a word of English. Still, she quickly petitioned to bring the rest of her children over. The process required several appointments, interviews, and DNA tests.

Today, Rukhia works as a housekeeper and studies at the ELC. She and her children–now in high school, middle school, and kindergarten–live happily in the Phillips neighborhood. She says, “We are all together, and everything is fine.”

When asked what she would do if she had the power to change anything, Rukhia answers, “If I were to become rich, I would help people in the refugee camps. Some people there have no food or clothes or shelter. [It’s so bad], some [leave the camp and] go to the forest and just disappear.”

To her neighbors, she would say, “If you can help, please do.”