The Christmas period is traditionally a time for families to cross land and sea to be back together, seeing out the old year and ushering in the new.
But, that doesn’t always happen. Sometimes families can’t be together due to work commitments abroad or the geographical distances involved in getting home. Sometimes home is too dangerous to go back to.
Abdishakur Mohamed Ahmed hasn’t been able to go back home to see his family in almost 6 years.
He is Somalian and at the age of 17, he decided to go to Europe, leaving his Mum and unborn brother behind (who is now 5 years old). With the loss of his father, he knew he had to find a way to support them.
In 2012, he left his home in Yootey Somalia spending two months on the road to Libya. He boarded a migrant boat leaving the Libyan shore and spent three days and nights in the Mediterranean. He was later rescued and taken to Malta and after leaving detention in Hal Far, he received Subsidiary Protection from the Maltese authorities allowing him to live and find work.
As a Muslim, Christmas is just like Eid. Families come together to their share time and gifts. He recalls how Eid was a great time to spend with his family and friends. But spending time with loved ones feels like a distant memory.
Another Christmas or Eid without them doesn’t feel right but it’s become a normal prospect he’s grown to live with and he doesn’t see himself going home any time soon.
This is largely linked to his status. Under the laws governing his Subsidiary Protection status (Article 14 (1) (b) of Legal Notice 243 of 2008), Abdishakur is entitled to a number of different rights; from Education, Health Care, Employment and a renewable work permit. However, family reunification is not covered under his current status.
‘We try to keep the conversation light’
He explains that when he was studying and playing football with his Christian friends, he would always wish them a Merry Christmas before heading their separate ways on Christmas Eve.
‘When we’d finish the game, they would go home to their families and celebrate. I would go home and I would just watch a movie. The feeling is the same thing, every year its the same for me.’
He’s not completely alone and it gives him some comfort to know that there are other African migrants also far from home at Christmas. He plays football with them and he tries to keep the discussion light. You don’t want to get too personal about family back home he explains.
‘We share what little information we have about our day was and that’s it… Most of us, including me, have to work early in the morning.’
‘I always tell her I’m fine, I don’t want to worry her’
When asked if he will be speaking to his family during the Christmas period, he says that they try to speak everyday but there is no fixed number he can pick up and call home. Throughout his time in Malta, he’s been called on multiple numbers from his mother and on each occasion he tells her he’s fine.
He explains that she tells him how there are nights she can’t sleep or she has nightmares worried about him. It’s understandable, a parent worries about their child being so far way.
‘I can feel it. I always tell her not to worry and that its is my life and its not something you choose, its just something that is happening and you have to make her believe it because if you tell her this life is bad or I’m living a bad life. I always have to tell her something good because if i don’t she’s going to get more worried about me.’
‘I tell myself, you’re going to see them one day, don’t worry about it’
There have been tough times over the last 5-6 years. Trying to study, trying to work to support his family, trying to stay awake and do both. His mother has been there on the end of the cracky phone line, spurring him to keep going.
It has motivated him to make a sacrifice he’s willing to make. Abdishakur has decided to give up studying IT at MCAST in 2019. He says its difficult for him to improve himself and support his mother and brother at the same time.
‘I stopped my schooling because of them. I know the difficulties they are facing, so i stopped my schooling and my studies because of them. I’m trying to help them as long as I can.’
He also says that he thinks about them everyday but dwelling on it won’t bring him closer to them. You have to be realistic, he says. Until that day, you have to continue living.
‘In my mind, I tell myself, you’re going to see them one day, don’t worry about it. I have to continue on the way i’m living, not just thinking about them and destroying the rest of my life.’