12/14/2017
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WATCH: A Somali in America


Wednesday March 22, 2017
Filmmaker: Paula Palacios

The story of Ali, a young Somali refugee in the US, who's now re-assessing his new life under the Trump presidency.


"A Somali in America" documents the experience of Ali Warsame, a Somali refugee who gained residency in the United States in 2015, but is re-assessing his new life now that Donald Trump is president.

While in a detention camp in Ukraine, Ali was told he'd be moving to the US through the United Nations refugee resettlement programme. Ali remembers getting the official notification on Eid Day in 2013: "In my life, I never thought that I will be in the USA," he says, because many others before him had been rejected.

He moved to Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 2013 and began a new life with his housemates, Prince and Sadik, who had had their own difficult and dangerous journeys getting there.

Ali describes his hopes and dreams of being reunited with his family, while revealing glimpses of his time in Ukraine where he was forced to spend three years before reaching the US. Having travelled illegally through Africa and eastern Europe, Ali was finally able to travel legally to "the land of opportunity".

Ali has very mixed feelings about his time in Ukraine but now says it gave him time to mature. It was only supposed to be a transit point - but it delayed his life plans by three years. Spending six months in detention taught him "a lot of things from life ... it opened my mind," he says. "[But] Ukraine destroys people's lives ... it destroyed my life."

"Escaping war from Somalia and then I came up to Ukraine and then another war broke out. I'm tired of this world with wars - wars in Syria ... in Palestine."

His deep faith and resilience helped him overcome his ordeal.

In a Michigan hostel in 2013, he and his newfound friends, Prince and Sadik, form a special bond over sport, school and a shared personal experience, as refugees given a new life as high school students.

"Everybody has his own story and most of the people here, they are not here for themselves … most of them represent their families ... we are blessed to be here."

With one foot in the US, but another still in Africa, Ali's deep love and longing for his family are clear.

As the oldest child of the family, he has the responsibility of making it in the US in order to provide long-term for his younger siblings. He reveals that none of his brothers and sisters have an education.

"I wish they were so lucky like me so they could have the chance which I have today to go to school and have a better future."

As a legal ward of the State of Michigan, Ali was supported by a family attorney and Bethany Christian Services. He hoped to complete his courses at a local community college and go on to study film-making at Michigan State University.

Trump's travel ban

When the film was first made, Ali hoped to bring the rest of his family from Somalia to join him in the US - but as he now explains in a fresh interview shot in March 2017, the situation has been complicated by Donald Trump's election as US president.

Anti-Islamic sentiment and Trump's two executive orders banning the issuing of visas to nationals of several majority-Muslim countries travelling to the US, including Somalia, have slightly taken the gloss off Ali's new life.

He now works part-time as a medical interpreter and enjoys helping other refugees in Michigan but laments "something is missing".

Despite having his green card, Ali's currently unable to be reunited with his family but says "when I become a citizen I'm going to sponsor them".



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