Reunited Family

The Abdirahman family is brought together in Columbia after nearly a decade of separation due to their attempts to flee their war-torn country of Somalia

Photos by Mikala Compton / Text by Tessa Weinberg

 Somali refugee Abshir Abdirahman hugs his daughter, Iqro Abdirahman(cq), 13, in the Columbia Regional Airport while being reunited after nine years of separation on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Abshir has been in America for three of those years. "It was only after I saw my wife that I recognized those were my kids," Abshir said.  v

Somali refugee Abshir Abdirahman hugs his daughter, Iqro Abdirahman(cq), 13, in the Columbia Regional Airport while being reunited after nine years of separation on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Abshir has been in America for three of those years. "It was only after I saw my wife that I recognized those were my kids," Abshir said. 
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 From left, Aniso Abdirahman, 12, Iqro Abdirahman, 13, and Abshir Abdirahman walk into their home after the family arrived in Columbia on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Abshir works two jobs to support his family.

From left, Aniso Abdirahman, 12, Iqro Abdirahman, 13, and Abshir Abdirahman walk into their home after the family arrived in Columbia on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Abshir works two jobs to support his family.

 Kaho Barre, mother of Yasin Abdirahman, smiles at her family while sitting in their living room after arriving back from the airport on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Barre said that from the day she first arrived in Columbia until the night her son arrived, she was prepared to go to the airport and get him. "I was not happy until I saw his face," Barre said.   

Kaho Barre, mother of Yasin Abdirahman, smiles at her family while sitting in their living room after arriving back from the airport on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Barre said that from the day she first arrived in Columbia until the night her son arrived, she was prepared to go to the airport and get him. "I was not happy until I saw his face," Barre said. 
 

 Yasin Abdirahman and his father, Abshir Abdirahman, wrap their arms around each other as they walk with Yasin's older brother, Abdullahi Abdirahman, 17, to their car and begin to head home from the Columbia Regional Airport on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Catholic Charities' refugee and immigration services helped reunite the family. "We [were] going everyday [to] the refugee office, Catholic Charities, and telling them to help us. And they helped us really. And they were like us, worrying with us," said Barre.

Yasin Abdirahman and his father, Abshir Abdirahman, wrap their arms around each other as they walk with Yasin's older brother, Abdullahi Abdirahman, 17, to their car and begin to head home from the Columbia Regional Airport on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Catholic Charities' refugee and immigration services helped reunite the family. "We [were] going everyday [to] the refugee office, Catholic Charities, and telling them to help us. And they helped us really. And they were like us, worrying with us," said Barre.

Abshir Abdirahman, a Somali refugee, arrived at the Columbia Regional Airport on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017 to be reunited with his family after nine years of separation. Abshir met his wife and five of his six children at the airport. The second eldest son, Abshir, was left behind in Ethiopia, alone, due to issues with his immigration paperwork. Two months later the entire family was reunited. It's the first time they had all been together in almost a decade. 
 

Abdirahman, 36, and Barre, 39, used to live in a two-bedroom house with their six children in the Howlwadaag District of Mogadishu, Somalia's capital. Abdirahman was a businessman, he said.

The civil war unfolding in the country made it difficult to live a normal life, he said through a translator.

"The problem was inside your house," he said.

Even the walls of their home couldn't keep them safe from fighting factions, Abdirahman said. It was time to leave.

He decided to depart in 2007, leaving his family behind. Because he was responsible for the others, he said, he needed to find a way to save up money to get them out of the country.

Abdirahman traveled throughout North Africa for several years, living in Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan and Libya. Eventually, he arrived in Malta, an island nation between Italy and Africa, where he began his process to enter America as a refugee. Catholic Charities resettled him in Columbia on Nov. 20, 2013, Wildenhaus said.

His goal was to find a job and establish a new life. He lived day by day and eventually found two jobs working up to 14 hours a day. While he couldn't see his family, he'd hear their voices when he called.

Abdirahman said he was stressed, scared and nervous during this time. It wasn't certain he would be able to bring his family to America.

His oldest son, Abdullahi, 17, described the chances of their family reuniting as "50-50."

In November 2014, Barre and her five kids rode the bus for two days from Somalia to Ethiopia, where they lived in Addis Ababa, the country's capital, Abdullahi said.

Two times, they came close to entering the U.S. Two times, they were unsuccessful.

They were originally scheduled to resettle in Columbia in December 2016. However, the plane left, and they weren't on it. Another flight was scheduled for January 12, Abdullahi said. That one left without them, too.

Catholic Charities is not sure why they were delayed. Wildenhaus said that it could have been because of a minor hiccup in paperwork. Ultimately, they don’t know, she said.

Abdirahman said the flights being rescheduled were the worst time of his life. Nothing he said could reassure his family.

"They're asking me questions," he said, "and I don't have the answer."

In Ethiopia, Barre heard that no refugees or citizens of Somalia could enter the U.S. for months due to President Donald Trump's travel ban. She began to worry, she said. For her family, going back to Somalia was not an option. The kids stopped eating, she said.

Barre could only tell her kids that it was out of their control.

"We have a God, and God is the only one deciding if we stay here or if we go to America," Barre said about the experience during an interview Saturday. "If that time comes, we will go, I'm sure."

The time finally came.

 Kahd Hassan Barre and her daughter Iqro Abdirahman(cq) get settled into their new home on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Kahd came with five of her six children. The sixth child, Yasin Abdirahman, 16,  had complications in the traveling process and was left in Africa. "I will not be happy until I see my son," Barre said. 

Kahd Hassan Barre and her daughter Iqro Abdirahman(cq) get settled into their new home on Friday, Feb. 17, 2017. Kahd came with five of her six children. The sixth child, Yasin Abdirahman, 16,  had complications in the traveling process and was left in Africa. "I will not be happy until I see my son," Barre said. 

In mid-February, Barre and her kids boarded their third flight to the U.S. This time, it would leave the ground with them on it.

On Friday night, their flight landed in Columbia. When Abdirahman's youngest daughter, Aniso, walked into the baggage claim area, father and daughter stared at each other. He did not recognize her.

Aniso was 3 when her father left; she's now 12. It wasn't until a Catholic Charities staff member gestured toward Abdirahman that they realized they were family.

The hesitant first few moments were quickly forgotten with a flurry of hugs and kisses. When Abdirahman's 13-year-old daughter, Iqro, walked in, they embraced.

Still grasping each other, they walked down the hallway out of baggage claim. Around them, Catholic Charities staff and friends from the local Somalian community trailed behind.

The pair hugged in a corner, off by themselves, and then walked arm in arm all the way to the parking lot. When they returned a few minutes later, their arms were still around each other.

"I'm very happy," Abdirahman, teary-eyed, said at the airport.

But one family member was missing. Abdirahman and Barre's 16-year-old son, Yasin, had his case separated from his mother and siblings' case in November.

Wildenhaus said that families are divided into separate cases frequently and that it could be due to a variety of factors, such as age and marital status. Once a case is separated, more paperwork is necessary, and medical and background checks can expire, she said.

  The Abdirahman family looks for Yasin's luggage at the baggage claim at the Columbia Regional Airport after months of separation on Tuesday, April 18, 2017.  I was by myself. Yasin spent two months alone in Ethiopia. "I was going to school in the morning. And I was sleeping in the afternoon. All the night I would stay in the house by myself. It was lonely," Yasin said.


The Abdirahman family looks for Yasin's luggage at the baggage claim at the Columbia Regional Airport after months of separation on Tuesday, April 18, 2017.  I was by myself. Yasin spent two months alone in Ethiopia. "I was going to school in the morning. And I was sleeping in the afternoon. All the night I would stay in the house by myself. It was lonely," Yasin said.

For two months the rest of the family waited anxiously in hopes of receiving the news that Yasin would be cleared to enter the U.S,

Living alone in an apartment in Ethiopia's capital, Addis Ababa, Yasin Abdirahman said he didn't encounter other kids alone like him. The days were lonely, and at night he cried, he said.

"I was going to school in the morning. And I was sleeping in the afternoon," he said. "All the night I would stay in the house by myself."

His days would improve when he spoke with his family over the phone. They encouraged him that he would join them and told him, "It will be soon."

"I was getting happier when they told me that. And they would tell me they're contacting everywhere they can to get me here," he said.

Abshir Abdirahman said in February that if he hadn't heard news about his son's case in two months, he would go back to Ethiopia to be with him, even if it meant he couldn't return to the U.S. Barre said they visited the refugee office every day trying to get help.

"They were like us, worrying with us," Barre said. "We were both trying to work together, and finally we (got) the result."

With the help of refugee and immigration services, their son was able to come to them. Barre said it was a great feeling when she heard her son would be coming.

When he stepped off the plane at Columbia Regional Airport, family, friends from the local Somali community, Tran and her sister crowded around him in a circle. Yasin hugged his father; he looked older than he remembered.

His oldest brother wiped tears away with his scarf as he recorded with his phone. 

This time, it was their turn to welcome someone home.

 The Abdirahman family gather in their living room to drink tea and sign paperwork from their case worker after returning from the airport on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. "We are all happy tonight. We are not sleeping tonight. The family [is] gathered together again," said Barre.  

The Abdirahman family gather in their living room to drink tea and sign paperwork from their case worker after returning from the airport on Tuesday, April 18, 2017. "We are all happy tonight. We are not sleeping tonight. The family [is] gathered together again," said Barre.