COLUMBIA — Kaho Barre sat in silence on her couch in her home of two months. As her kids put shoes on and her husband looked for his keys, she anticipated seeing her 16-year-old son, Yasin Abdirahman, who was left alone in Ethiopia after his family came to America.
While Barre has sent her five children to school each day, she imagined the day she could see her missing child join his siblings.
“I was expecting one day to see my son,” Barre said through an interpreter. “Also, I was fighting with my new life in America.”
That day came last week, when Yasin Abdirahman was reunited with his family. His case had been separated from his mother and siblings — all refugees originally from Somalia — in November, and he did not travel with his family when they arrived in Columbia in February. The last time he saw them was when he said goodbye at an airport in Ethiopia. The last time he saw his father, Abshir, was nearly a decade ago.
Abshir Abdirahman left his family in 2007 as civil war broke out in Somalia. After traveling across Africa for six years, he was the first to resettle in Columbia as a refugee in November 2013. He worked to support his family an ocean away, waiting for them to join him. They were able to do so after President Donald Trump’s first travel ban was blocked.
While adjusting to a new country takes time, the house that was once bare except for a few essentials is decorated now. Gold table runners spruce up the coffee tables, and a red rug adds a pop of color to the brown carpet. Pairs of shoes line the doorway, and a sign in the shape of a heart hangs on the wall and reads, “Together our love will grow.”
Since Barre heard late last month that her son was coming to Columbia, she has been anxious. Barre had reason to worry. She knew what it felt like to have her hopes dashed after she and her children were scheduled to come to the U.S. twice before. Both times the plane left without them. It wasn’t until the third flight that their case finally went through.
Even up to the day before Yasin Abdirahman’s arrival, details had to be finalized. It wasn’t until about 8:15 a.m. Monday, April 17 — when the Catholic Charities of Central and Northern Missouri office was closed for Easter — that Lorna Tran, director of refugee and immigration services, saw an email saying the paperwork for a travel loan was missing his father’s signature.
Refugee and immigration services case workers rushed to the Abdirahman’s home to get the necessary paperwork filled out.
“I think poor Kaho just about fainted, because she thought (Yasin) wasn’t coming, because it had happened so many times,” Tran said. “But it worked out.”
Hurdles to immigration
In March, 2,070 refugees arrived in the U.S., according to the U.S. Department of State website. Nearly half were from the seven countries listed in Trump’s original executive order that banned refugee admissions for 120 days. The order specifically barred refugees and immigrants from Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen for 90 days.
After the original ban was blocked in February and requests to resume the ban were denied, Trump issued a new executive order on March 6. Issued six weeks after the first executive order, the new ban was titled, “Protecting The Nation From Foreign Terrorist Entry Into The United States.” It similarly blocked refugee admissions for 120 days, as well as immigrants for 90 days from the same countries, except Iraq, which was removed from the list.
The new ban was set to take effect March 16, but it was blocked by a U.S. District Court judge in Hawaii, who issued a temporary restraining order a day before the ban was to start. A U.S. District judge in Maryland also blocked the 90-day ban on immigrants from the six countries listed. A day after a federal judge issued an indefinite hold on the ban, Trump’s administration appealed the ruling on March 30, according to the Associated Press.
When Yasin Abdirahman initially heard of the second travel ban, he said he felt sad that he wouldn’t be reuniting with his family.
“That time I (felt) like I’m not going to America,” he said through an interpreter, “another block between my family and I.”
Typically, minors are not resettled alone, said Grace Wildenhaus, a coordinator for Catholic Charities’ local Refugee and Immigration Services office. Within the past year, Catholic Charities has resettled a handful of minors and will only do so if their family has already come to the U.S.
Yasin Abdirahman is one of eight individuals from Somalia, Congo and Ukraine who have been resettled since Barre and her children arrived.
Even though Trump’s order was blocked, the number of refugee arrivals is still lower than previous years, Wildenhaus said. That’s because the Trump administration lowered the cap on the number of total refugees who can come to the U.S.
“The national refugee arrival ceiling is still 50,000, so that’s why our monthly arrivals are significantly lower than in the past,” Wildenhaus said in an email. “Blocking the ban won’t bring numbers up or help funding; raising the ceiling would do that.”
Living alone in an apartment in Ethiopia’s capital, Addis Ababa, Yasin Abdirahman said he didn’t encounter other kids alone like him. The days were lonely, and at night he cried, he said.
“I was going to school in the morning. And I was sleeping in the afternoon,” he said. “All the night I would stay in the house by myself.”
His days would improve when he spoke with his family over the phone. They encouraged him that he would join them and told him, “It will be soon.”
“I was getting happier when they told me that. And they would tell me they’re contacting everywhere they can to get me here,” he said.
Abshir Abdirahman said in February that if he hadn’t heard news about his son’s case in two months, he would go back to Ethiopia to be with him, even if it meant he couldn’t return to the U.S. Barre said they visited the refugee office every day trying to get help.
“They were like us, worrying with us,” Barre said. “We were both trying to work together, and finally we (got) the result.”
With the help of refugee and immigration services, their son was able to come to them. Barre said it was a great feeling when she heard her son would be coming.
When he stepped off the plane at Columbia Regional Airport, family, friends from the local Somali community, Tran and her sister crowded around him in a circle. Yasin hugged his father; he looked older than he remembered.
His oldest brother wiped tears away with his scarf as he recorded with his phone.
This time, it was their turn to welcome someone home.