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Somali journalist seeking asylum records refugees' plight in Hong Kong

Maahir hopes his camera can shed light on the plight of asylum seekers. Photo: Edward Wong

By Danny Lee
Sunday, February 23, 2014

When investigative journalist Maahir and his television crew went undercover into a refugee camp in East Africa to investigate allegations of soldiers raping women, it was the start of a nightmare he has yet to wake up from.

After interviewing the women the soldiers kidnapped them.

"When they found out we were journalists they seized all our gear and took us to a detention centre," Maahir said. "I was blindfolded" and endured 20 days of torture and interrogation.

He said he was given just a cup of milk and a few biscuits every day.

More than a year later, Maahir is now claiming asylum in Hong Kong and has decided to turn his camera on the city's demoralised and downtrodden refugees.

"Many people think of this city as New York - rich with golden opportunities - but it's not," the Somalian said.

"Now I am working on my own project to talk about the real life of refugees and asylum seekers in Hong Kong.

Armed with a digital camera, he said: "I want to share my feelings and other people's experiences because every single picture has a story to tell."

Maahir, 26, said he wanted to keep his identity hidden to protect his family back home. He believes that his captors think he is dead.

His body bears numerous scars and burns, the result, he said, of his 20 days of torture and injuries received while reporting from the front line on battles involving an Al-Qaeda supported Islamic terror cell and the military.

As a stringer for international news organisations, Maahir said local journalists would die for US$100 a day just to get the story for foreign correspondents.

He said he escaped during a skirmish between the military and militants but feared his family could be detained if he returned home.

With the help of an uncle, he paid US$20,000 to escape the country through a network of smugglers. His plan was to seek asylum in the Netherlands, but from Dubai he managed to reach Hong Kong in the belief it was a safe haven.

Confused and not knowing where he was, he fainted going through immigration at Chek Lap Kok airport.

After claiming asylum, he was detained for 107 days at Castle Peak Bay Immigration Centre at Tuen Mun.

"I then started another miserable life," Maahir said.

Upon his release, he was told that he could not work or enrol in higher education.

"I could not do anything. I was not really free," he said.

Maahir asked the officials: "How am I going to live here if I'm not allowed to do anything. What are my rights?

"Being at the immigration centre was better. At least you can eat, you can sleep, but here outside, it's very hard for you to eat even with social welfare food."


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