Somalia through a mother’s eyes
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Abdul Aziz, Somalia - Clutching her three-year-old daughter tightly to her chest, Hasura Hassan stares blankly in front of her, her eyes glazed over.
Standing outside the Forlanin Hospital in Mogadishu, she is surrounded by over 1000 hungry, sick, desperate and dying women and children.
Many who are seeking assistance from the Gift of the Givers medical team based at the hospital, have similar tales of horror to tell.
Of the 18 family members with whom Hassan fled from Somalia’s famine-stricken lower Shabelle region, only six survived.
Some died from exhaustion, starvation and disease while others were raped, tortured, butchered or kidnapped during their 100km, month-long journey to Mogadishu.
Forced off their farm by Somalia’s Islamic fundamentalist organisation, al-Shabaab, the family endured weeks of attacks.
They moved only at night. By day they hid under whatever shelter they could find.
The shelter was from the elements and marauding gangs of al-Shabaab fighters and criminals. By the time Hassan, her daughter, Talisa, her sister and nieces reached Mogadishu they had nothing. Today they still have nothing.
Asked to tell the story of her journey, Hassan, who joined the queue outside the hospital before sunrise, looks at her feet and hugs Talisa closer to her chest.
“What can I say? What do you want to know? Must I tell you how they shot my husband in front of me? What about how they raped my babies and stole my sons?”
Staring at the translator, Hassan says they fled after al-Shabaab fighters came to their farmstead and threatened to kill them if they did not pay “taxes”.
The “taxes” are used to fund al-Shabaab’s terror activities.
Fearing for their children’s lives, Hassan and her husband, Abdullahi, decided to flee, leaving everything behind except for a few goats and pots.
“We just ran. We could do nothing but run. If we stayed we would not be here. We would not have lived. We left at night and walked as fast as possible. We did not know which way to go so we just started walking.
“At sunrise, like every sunrise, they came. We would try to hide but the al-Shabaab fighters would find us. They killed my husband the first day. We begged them to leave him alone. We begged them not to hurt him, but they just laughed.
“They did not stop laughing until they killed him. They made us stand and watch. My children went quiet. They were not allowed to say anything. They were not even allowed to tell him they love him.”
After the fighters left, the family continued to walk, harassed constantly as they passed through the country’s southern regions, which fall under the control of al-Shabaab.
“They took everything that I owned. They stole my sons. I told them to take me, to do whatever they liked with me.
“I said they could have me, but they said I was old. They took my boys. They took my baby boy. They took him so he could fight for them.
“I asked them to kill me and my daughters, but they said that I must suffer because of what we have done, but what have we done? All we wanted to do was to live. For each other and our children.”
In Mogadishu the family sought shelter but quickly became caught up in ferocious battles for the control of the capital. Trapped within the district of Abdul Aziz, a former stronghold of the terror organisation, Hassan and her family battled to survive.
“We tried to move but they would not let us. They set up roadblocks everywhere. No one could do anything. You could not leave. If you tried they killed you or left you alive but killed your children.”
Describing how her 10-year-old daughter, Talahina, died, Hassan said al-Shabaab refused to allow her to take her to hospital.
“She was so sick. She was crying for days. I asked to go to hospital but they said no. I offered them money, but they said no. I tried. I tried so hard but they stopped me. They stopped me from saving my baby. They did this to torture me. They did this to punish me.”
Her fears are that al-Shabaab will return to Abdul Aziz.
“If they do they will kill us. I wish they had. I wish we were all dead so we did not have to suffer. I am tired. I am tired of all of this. I am tired of watching my children be hungry. I want this over. I want this to end.” - Pretoria News