Somalian refugee recounts perilous escape to Israel
Daher Dhudy, a 27-year-old Somalia native who now resides in Queens, N.Y., has faced many obstacles that often accompany the life of a refugee.
Rutgers Hillel’s Center for Israel Engagement hosted “Black, Muslim and Free: One Man’s Journey to Israel” last night, which featured Dhudy, who spoke to a room full of University students.
He left Somalia when he was 16 years old with his older brother after the rest of his family died. The area has been associated with violence because of the civil unrest in the region, he said.
Dhudy, who was born into a minority-Muslim tribal family, took refuge in Egypt with his brother after the passing of his family. Once there, he faced racism and discrimination, even witnessing the death of many people because of the practice of organ removal for financial gain.
“We faced violence because of your ethnic group, because you’re a minority and because of your looks,” Dhudy said.
Such events prompted him to end his five-year stay in Egypt and therefore attempt to cross the border into Israel. Dhudy said he, along with a group of friends, saved money for seven months to pay for the smugglers necessary for their transportation.
The decision of where to go was not easy for him — he sought a better life and more opportunities for his future. As times worsened for his brother and him, Dhudy conducted research for his desired destination.
“I had three options. I could go to Sudan, Libya or Israel. You do the math,” he said.
“[Since living there], I have never experienced any racism, any discrimination in Israel.”
Dhudy said media in Egypt does not depict Israel in the best way, though after conducting further research on his own about human rights, he realized it was the best place for him to go.
He said the lack of democracy in neighboring countries, along with the human rights violations and the idea of living under former dictator Muammar al-Gaddafi of Libya — it made sense to go to Israel.
The young refugee knew the journey would not be easy, especially since many who do so lose their lives in attempting to reach countries such as Israel from Africa.
“It was very difficult,” he said. “When we [reached] there, the security who stopped us were speaking Arabic. We thought the Egyptians caught us, but it was Israeli soldiers.”
“I was the only one who could speak English … I started [learning] English at a church in Egypt. It was a Catholic church and I had been there for five years,” he said.
Dhudy said the Israelis did not know exactly what to do with them at first.
“We had been in the detention center for four hours,” he said. “In the detention center, I got a bed, we had a nice officer … they gave us a big bag of tea and they fed us food.”
After questioning, Israel and the United Nations were able to provide Dhudy and the others in his group, minus one who was shot by Egyptians along the way, official U.N. refugee status.
From there, Dhudy said his brother and his friends were able to live in shelters until they could get a job working in the restaurant business.
After establishing himself, he sought an education at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya in Israel, where he contacted officials and was able to apply for admission and scholarships.
“The school was looking for refugee students and the vice president introduced us to Israel at Heart.”
Israel at Heart, a nonprofit organization, provided Dhudy with a scholarship to study government and diplomacy at the Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya.
Dhudy was able to graduate this fall and has since moved to the United States. After experiencing a vast array of cultures and religions, he came to the conclusion that he was a “secular” person.
He noted the religious aspects of American life and described the United States as being “one of the most religious places.” Today his brother still resides in Israel, though he hopes to someday join Dhudy here in the United States, he said.
Dhudy said he came to the United States to further his education and employment, though he holds a temporary job until he can find out exactly how to do so.
“They say it’s the land of opportunity, so I’m looking for the opportunity,” he said.
Lihi Rothschild, the Israel program coordinator for the Center for Israel Engagement at Rutgers Hillel, said Dhudy volunteered for the event.
“He told both sides, the good and the bad,” she said.
Rothschild said she was not surprised by some of the details he explained in regard to his experiences as a refugee in northern Africa and the Middle East.
“[Dhudy’s] really grateful to the state of Israel because of the opportunity they gave him,” she said.
Stephanie Klarer, a School of Arts and Science senior, thought Dhudy’s discussion was intriguing.
“To hear from someone non-Jewish speak about their experience in Israel was great,” she said.
In light of all of the obstacles Dhudy faced throughout his life, his obstacles captivated her, Klarer said.
“He faced so many struggles, and he is still optimistic,” she said.
Allie Reiter, an Israel board member in Rutgers Hillel appreciated how the program displayed a particular characteristic of Israel.
“[Dhudy’s story] showcased the positive values of Israeli society that people often overlook — such as the democratic nature of the state, and the diversity of Israel,” Reiter said in a statement.
“Many people don’t know that 25 percent aren’t Jewish,” she said.