Somali reunion: Shoutout to the New York Times’ “A California Reckoning in a Case of Abuses Abroad”

Omar Yousuf and Amina Jireh, two Somalian refugees profiled in Paddock's NYT article.
Omar Yousuf and Amina Jireh, two Somalian refugees who discovered they had been followed to the shores of safety by none other than the dangers of home.

When I was a kid, sometimes I had nightmares. And when these nightmares struck and I woke up in the night, sweating and spooked, twisted in my bedsheets, I would invariably run down the hall to my parents’ bedroom and nestle between them in their king-size bed, the only space in the world where I knew whatever monsters I’d been dreaming of couldn’t get me.

Sometimes I think Americans picture the U.S. the same way I viewed my parents’ bed: as a big, warm, welcoming nest offering comfort and shelter from danger. “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” Lady Liberty famously beckons, inviting the endangered and the less fortunate to come enjoy our cozy, insulated lifestyle.

But what happens when the standard-issue heartwarming success story of refugee migration to the United States doesn’t have a happy ending? What happens when a safe haven turns out to be just as dangerous as home?

When brothers Bashe and Omar Yousuf and their cousin Amina Jireh came from war-torn Somalia several years ago seeking asylum in the U.S., they thought they’d made their escape. But in 2002, they were shocked to discover that a Somali official who they believed was guilty of violent crimes against their family members was living freely in the United States.

Bay Area journalist Richard C. Paddock’s article “A California Reckoning in a Case of Abuses Abroad”  takes a look at the American efforts to file suit in cases like the Yousufs’, in which both the victims and the perpetrators of international human rights violations have fled to the U.S. as refugees.

According to the article, about 500,000 torture victims live in the U.S. as refugees, and about 1,000 international human rights violators do, too. And to throw a bizarre, scary wrench into the situation, these human rights violators often wind up living in the same communities as their victims. The commonality of migrant and refugee enclaves in the U.S. increases the likelihood that refugees from the same country will settle in the same communities, so this trend isn’t as shockingly coincidental as I initially thought. But this bizarre phenomenon of close, unhappy coexistence between former violent criminals and their victims sets the scene for Paddock’s harrowing report, which exposes a darker side to the American immigration story that’s often swept under the rug – or, more appropriately, under the covers.

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