Abdoul Abdi, the former child refugee from Somalia who is facing deportation because foster homes did not apply for his citizenship as a child, feels he has a second chance after his recently completed prison term. In an exclusive interview with The National, he says he does not want to waste it.
“If anybody thinks that throwing away your second and last chance is something to gamble with, this is crazy,” Abdi told co-host Rosemary Barton. “This is my second and last chance and I got slapped in the face with reality. That’s the best way I can describe that.”
Abdi, 23, fled his native Somalia with his sister and two aunts, arriving in Nova Scotia when he was just six years old. Fatouma Abdi, 25, said that both she and her brother were the victims of bullying and abuse at school and so their aunts pulled them out.
She told CBC Radio’s The Current that their aunts didn’t understand they were legally required to keep their kids in school and that shortly afterward both her and her brother were put in the care of the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services.
Their aunts tried to get Abdoul Abdi back through the courts but failed. Over the years that followed, Abdi bounced between 31 different group and foster homes, none of which applied for him to become a Canadian citizen.
“It’s not ideal…. It’s like living in a place with 10, 20, 30, 40 other messed-up kids that went through traumatic experiences in their life,” he told The National co-host Rosemary Barton. “And no parental guidance, so, you’re just all there just too, just to live. And that’s about it.”
He said he was not allowed to see either of his aunts and while he and his sister started off in a foster home together, Fatouma was soon moved and he only saw her intermittently after that.
Growing up in group homes, Abdi said, left him a victim of physical and mental abuse. He describes his childhood as traumatic.
“No kid should have to go through that, in my opinion,” he said. “There are … obviously some kids that did not have loving parents or their parents neglected them. And I understand, but there’s also a lot of kids that did not understand why they were taken from their family over nonsense.”
‘The root of the problem’
Abdi said he met the odd person with good intentions during his stay in state care, but received no guidance on how to stay out of trouble and lead a good life.
“A lot of kids need guidance. They’re very influenced by their environment. So when you have nobody to guide you, you’re influenced by yourself and your environment,” he said.
“All you have is … these other kids that are traumatized, so the only thing they can reflect on you is their experiences in life.
“And then when you grow older, everybody’s looking at you like, what went wrong with you? What mental hells are you going through? But they don’t look at the root of the problem of how you grew up, and no guidance and all you have to reflect on is with these other kids that went through their traumatic experiences in life.”
A child without citizenship
Abdi eventually ran afoul of the law. He was recently released from prison after serving four-and-a-half years on charges that include aggravated assault.
But because the Province of Nova Scotia never applied for Canadian citizenship for him while he was a ward of the state, he is currently being detained on immigration grounds by the Canada Border Services Agency and could be deported despite having no remaining ties to war-torn Somalia.
“I had a social insurance number, everything like that,” he said “So it wasn’t like … I knew that there was something missing.
“I thought I was just like everybody else, in prison to pay for their mistakes…. I did not think I was going to be paying double punishment or that they would be asking for my removal after.”
Faced with the possible deportation of her brother, Fatouma went to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s recent town hall event near Halifax to ask the prime minister why he was deporting her brother.
“I know I speak for most of us here in this room, and indeed across the country, when we saw how the care system failed your brother, how we saw how the challenges he’s facing have impacted upon him, and we saw the real challenges that we’re facing in the system,” Trudeau said in response.
The prime minister said that any time a deportation order is issued it is done with a great deal of care and that while he could not speak specifically to Abdi’s case he believed that no final decision had been made in his case.
“I appreciate his answer, but in the end of day, it’s just a political answer. It’s not helping me, it’s not helping kids in my situation,” Abdi said. “If steps don’t get taken to fix these things, there will be many kids in this exact spot.”
If he could speak to Trudeau himself, Abdi says, he would ask the prime minister to do more for kids in care.
“Help kids never be in a situation I am right now because I guarantee you, if I just get swept under the rug, that there will be another child in the same position as I am. Because criminal law and kids in care are hand-in-hand.”
Now that he is out of prison, Abdi says he is no longer a danger to society and just wants to be a father to his child.
“I just want to be there for my child and give her the experiences of what to do and not to do, you know, because I feel like what makes a person is their struggles in life.”