A former refugee will vote for the first time as U.S. citizen

PHOENIX – A former Somalian refugee’s nearly 30-year journey to become a U.S. citizen will reach a high point when he votes for the first time in November.

Starting the journey

Mohammed Abdullahi, who now lives in Phoenix, was three-years-old when he fled with his family from his birth country, Somalia. Only his paternal grandmother, who refused to leave the country that was being frayed by a civil war, was left behind.

The journey ahead was grueling. The family started out, on foot, on a more than 360-mile journey from Kismayo, Somalia to the border of Kenya.

Abdullahi became sick during the trek. His father took him to a hospital, where he left Abdullahi with his aunt and uncle.

“That was the last time I saw my daddy,” Abdullahi said. His father was murdered when he went to check on Abdullahi’s grandmother in their home village.

Seeking resettlement

Once the family arrived at the Kenyan border, officials from the United Nations and Kenyan government interviewed them to make sure they qualified as refugees. Abdullahi says it was traumatic for him to relive his experience.

They were moved to the United Nations refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya.

“It’s one of the most horrible places to be for some human being to live in,” Abdullahi said, struggling to find the words to describe the living conditions. Abdullahi and his family were told the resettlement process would only take a few weeks.

It took much longer.

The Dadaab refugee camp still houses refugees nearly 20 years later. Kenya considered closing the refugee camp this year but reversed its decision.

Abdullahi spent 19 years of his life in the camp before he resettled in Arizona in 2010. The International Rescue Committee, which helped him become an Arizona resident, also gave him a job. He works as an employment coordinator for the refugees service in Phoenix, helping others who are in the same position he was in not so long ago.

Preparing to vote

After nearly seven years of living in the Phoenix area, Abdullahi finally became an American citizen in April. He registered to vote that same day.

At about 31 years old, Abdullahi will finally get to exercise one of the rights open to U.S. citizens. He estimated his age as 31, which is on his driver’s license, but said he may actually be be in his mid-20’s. He does not know his birth date because his documents were lost on his journey.

Abdullahi is exhilarated to finally have “a voice” in his adopted country.

“I’m more excited in exercising my voting rights than the candidates,” he said.

Arizona leaders of the Republican and Democratic parties want his vote.

Tim Sifert, communications director for the GOP in Arizona, said Republicans give new citizens the best opportunity to achieve the American dream.

“America is the land of opportunity and the Republican Party does really boost that kind of opportunity,” Sifert said.

An Arizona Democratic official disagrees, saying Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s immigration policies are driving people toward the Democratic Party.

“A lot of it is they’re actually coming to us, which is making it easy because all we have to do is work with those people in order to reach out to their communities,” said Cesar Aguilar, a field organizer for the Arizona Democratic Party.

As the Nov. 8 election approaches, Abdullahi says he is still unsure who he’ll vote for as president.

But he’s certain of one thing. He’ll be at the polls that Tuesday, ready to cast his vote.