In the first version of my earlier post, I incorrectly described Hamdia Ahmed as Somali Bantu. Hamdia reached out and let me know her family is not Bantu but ethnic Somali. While she was diligent in seeing my error corrected, she was unfailingly gracious during our exchange. I apologize for my earlier misunderstandings and will do my homework more carefully going forward.
Perhaps my biggest takeaway from my research so far is how little I — and most Americans — understand Somalia. NGO and government reports frequently contain contradictory, incomplete or flat-out wrong material. Media stories come from outside agencies with their own funding and agendas. Depending on the source, the over 135,000 Somalis in America are generally lionized as Brave Survivors We Rescued or demonized as Freeloading Muslim Foreigners. Emotions are high but information is low and that’s never a good thing.
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
Long before Lazarus wrote her 1883 poem America was home to immigrants from around the world. This was not always a smooth process. Ben Franklin railed against Germans. The Know Nothing Party railed against my Irish Catholic ancestors. In 1882 we excluded the Chinese and in 1924 we restricted immigration from Italy. Generally after some initial distress all these ethnic groups became part of the greater American community. Our current welcoming attitude is not without historical precedent. Neither is our skepticism.
By any standard Hamdia Ahmed is an asset to her community. The same could be said of many other Somali-Americans. Dissident Right complaints about the NAXALT fallacy miss an important point: “not all X are like that” is more often than not a true statement. And frequently they miss another important point. We rely on the best, or the worst, cases because we want them to be the norm. But while lots of people have strong opinions, few have stopped to run the numbers.
In 1980, the year America instituted official refugee resettlement ceilings, we admitted 207,116 of the 231,000 allowed. Between October 2001 and April 2017 more than 895,000 refugees were resettled in America, an average of just under 58,000 per year. Trump has cut the annual allowance each year. In 2018 the Trump administration admitted 22,491 of a permitted 45,000. It is definitely true that we have restricted the influx of refugees. But those who wish to ease those restrictions miss a greater truth.
In 1980 there were around 8.45 million refugees worldwide. In 2001 there were an estimated 42 million people displaced by war, persecution or violence. 16 million had been driven from their countries while 25 million were displaced within their borders. By the end of 2018 that number had risen to 71 million. Of that number 16 million had been refugees for over five years; nearly 6 million had been refugees for over 20 years. Historically the United States has taken in more refugees than the rest of the world combined. And yet the supply of refugees has continually outstripped our ability to care for them.
Since Uzbek emigre Sayfullo Saipov drove a truck into a Manhattan crowd, we have become increasingly concerned about importing prospective terrorists. Somalia is a war-torn country with several active terrorist groups (Al-Shahaab being the most famous). And in a situation where vetting is critically important, identity theft is a major problem. Unscrupulous aid workers demand bribes from desperate families who qualify. Those who will not cooperate often find their case files and identities sold. Describing her family’s escape from Dadaab in 2005, Hamdia Ahmed said:
We almost didn’t make it to America, because the refugee card that was assigned to my family was sold to another family without our knowledge. Basically, identity theft. My mom went to the UN and said, “I can’t get food. They’re saying my card isn’t working. What is going on?” They had actually already canceled the card because the other family was going to America under our name. Then my mom gathered all of us and we went to the U.N. headquarters in Dadaab. My mom was crying outside. A guy came out and asked, “What’s the matter, ma’am? What can I do to help you?”
They put her card into the computer system and they said, “Oh my God. It’s identity theft. Your card… there’s a family traveling to the U.S. tonight with it.” So we wouldn’t even be here if that guy hadn’t helped us at the U.N. It happened to so many people.
Over a decade later things have not improved. Just ask Dadaab resident Hamdi Abdullahi, whose ex-husband absconded with their four children and his new wife after bribing a UNHCR (UN High Commission for Refugees) employee.
Their status as vulnerable refugees who’d fled a war zone helped her children, her ex and his new wife get into the United States. But Abdullahi says the bribe left her in the Dadaab refugee camp, where she now throws rocks and curses, only to be chased away by the security guards.
“I’m like the walking dead,” she said.
Her account is corroborated by a former U.N. contractor, speaking anonymously for fear of retribution, who said he personally collected tens of thousands of dollars from refugees while acting as a middleman for [UNHCR employee David] Momanyi — and other UNHCR staffers — over several years. He said Abdullahi’s ex-husband paid almost $20,000 in multiple installments.
For its part, the UNHCR has treated its rogue employees like the Catholic Church handled its pedophile priests, shuffling them to new postings and retaliating against complainers and whistleblowers. It is hard to imagine that employees amenable to bribes from desperate families will suddenly develop a moral compass when dealing with violent radicals. And hard to miss that Al-Shahaab is one of the few Somali-based organizations with money to spare.
Even at its least corrupt and most humane, to “resettle” refugees is to tear them from their communities and families. Consider this interview with Hamdia’s fellow Dadaab survivor Asad Hussein. Hussein is a brilliant young writer born and educated in Dadaab: his articles for the New York Times and Foreign Policy (among other outlets) won him a place in Princeton’s Class of ’22.
AW: Did [your younger siblings] want to come to the U.S. as well?
AH: I think so, but the thing is it’s not so easy to come here. As I’ve said, you know, my family’s been waiting for 13 years to be resettled. It didn’t work out. And when my sister was petitioner for my parents, she could only petition for them — for one, it costs a lot of money. For two, she was not actually allowed to petition for her siblings. And if she did then it would take longer than the process took — it would take seven years or so. So she thought, let me help my parents first, and let’s see what to do about the siblings. And my family, in a way, was torn apart. And I didn’t know I would come here too. I didn’t know I would end up here, until I got into Princeton. I was like oh, I can join you guys now. So a year ago I didn’t know I would be here. So it was, in a way, just so many coincidences getting together.
For those looking to assuage their White guilt, refugees make convenient Morality Pets. As TV Tropes explains:
A Morality Pet is a character who redeems a villain. The villain’s affection for the pet starts them down the path of good, and even should the pet get hurt the villain will most likely behave as a hero (or anti-hero) in seeking their revenge or protecting the pet.
By standing in solidarity with Muslim refugees, White liberals atone for their ancestral sins. They prove themselves to be Good White People, not like those backwoods racists clinging to their hate and religion and conspiracy theories. (It’s especially easy to dismiss complaints about overtaxed social services when nobody in your social circle has ever needed help). Screaming at bad White people gives the same dopamine hit as donating money or volunteering for a cause — and it’s cheaper and easier to boot! And when you scream at people, you can’t be surprised if they start screaming back. What results is a vicious circle wherein each side feeds off the other’s disapproval.
Mainers have always had a fiercely independent streak. They react poorly to outsiders dictating from on high (and John Q. Publius has done a fantastic series exposing many of the outsiders pumping refugees into Maine). When a town of 35,000 people suddenly finds itself home to 10,000 refugees (and counting), you can expect pushback. When locals are attacked by a Somali mob you can expect a lot of ill feeling. And when any expressions of that ill feeling are immediately dismissed and condemned as “hate speech” you can expect that talk to go underground and ultimately to become actions everyone will likely regret.
I do not expect anti-Somali pogroms in Maine or Minnesota. What I see is increasing tension between refugees and locals. These may or may not culminate in isolated incidents of terrorism and violence on both sides. What is more likely is attacks on the funding sources which continue to import and support refugees. If those organizations are shut down or neutered, the Somali community in America will find itself with a greatly reduced safety net and propaganda squad. Some will become productive and integrated members of the greater American community. Others will find themselves trapped in the cycles of poverty and dependence which ensnared the Hmong and Bangladeshi refugees. And amidst the Left’s endless bowing before the altar of this week’s fashionable refugee group, the injustices which drove them from their homes will be left to grow unchecked.