Close-Up: Farah Abdi

Farah Abdi is an author, blogger, and refugee rights activist. Farah will be speaking at Copenhagen Pride today at the debate tent on the Rainbow Square.

Close-Up: Farah Abdi

Farah Abdi is a Somali transgender refugee. She is currently residing in Malta where she arrived by boat from Libya in 2012. Today she is a writer, blogger, refugee rights activist along with an International Bremen Peace Prize laureate and the Queen of England’s young leaders prize winner.

Farah will be speaking at Copenhagen Pride today in the debate on the Rainbow Square.

“When I speak at the two Scandinavian pride festivals I will be focusing on LGBTQI refugees. As a refugee myself I feel like we are a forgotten part of the community. Especially at this time when Denmark and Europe are heading right when it comes to immigration. LGBTQI refugees flee their homes in search of safety at human rights heavens like Denmark. So it’s really sad when they arrive to a place where they thought they could be themselves only to find racist and xenophobic systems”.

Farah Abdi was born in Somalia, but due to the civil war her family had to flee the country when she was only 3 years old. She moved to the Kenyan capital Nairobi with her father, mother and brother where they settled.

We are all human
Farah Abdi grew up in Kenya knowing that she was different than most other children at age 5. Growing up in a very conservative Somali family she knew that her gender identity would never be accepted, thus she had to hide her authentic self until 2012 when she could no longer remain in the closet. She fled her home in search of a place that would not only tolerate her difference but also celebrate it.

She took the long journey from Kenya to Malta as a refugee. A journey who has given her some life lessons to remember.

“The first major lesson I learned from my journey was realising that we are all human, but we are not all treated like humans. People in the West have free travel access while people like myself who come from failed states can not move legally. Getting a visa to the West as a Somali national is like asking for a permit to go to Mars. That’s why we are forced to risk our lives and pay thousands of dollars to human traffickers”, she says.

Farah went through Uganda, South Sudan, North Sudan, the Sahara and Libya before crossing the sea to Malta. The whole journey took her 9 months.

“Libya was the worst experience. I was there for 7 months trying to cross the sea. I witnessed all types of human rights violations. From sexual abuse to forced labour to imprisonment without trial. I thought that arriving in Malta was the end of the nightmare only to be thrown into prison using Malta’s mandatory detention policy for asylum seekers who arrive by boat”.

In Malta, Farah Abdi was detained along with other refugees upon arrival. Instead of finding freedom and acceptance she only found xenophobia, discrimination and rejection. She didn’t want to run away once again so she decided to stay and fight for her dreams, her rights and the rights of others.

Three years later, she published a book called “Never Arrive” which is an account of her long journey to freedom and finding herself. She also has a weekly blog with one of the largest newspapers in Malta along with a monthly blog with the University of Cambridge web page.

“I’ve always been a writer … since I was 7 years old. Writing gave me a platform to discover myself at a time when I couldn’t even talk to my mum about the challenges I was experiencing”, Farah says.

A long overdue voice
Writing has opened up a lot of doors to Farah Abdi after arriving to Malta. She has met presidents, EU commissioners and even the Queen of England because of her work as a writer and an activist.

“So I had to ask myself this question: Why do I write and who do I write for?”

“I write for all readers, but my primary interest lies in representing the complex but universal experience of refugees. I do this because the media representation of the global refugee community is one that is carved out of derivative clichés crammed with pirates, warlords, terrorists, passive women and girls whose entire existence seems to be nothing more than a footnote on the primitive dangers of female genital mutilation”, Farah notes when replying to her own question and continues:

“I write because I want to give a long-overdue voice to a community that has experienced a tremendous array of challenges, but who constantly faces these challenges with the most wicked sense of humor, humility and dignity. My mother always used to tell me that in our culture, the done thing when you’re facing hardship and your belly is empty is to moisturise your face, comb your hair, press your clothes and step out into the sun with your sense of humanity intact. It’s a lesson I’ve carried with me to this day.”

__________

I am black, a refugee, Muslim and trans. In today’s society all of these identities are considered to be invalid. I refused to give up on my dreams and to allow society to dictate to me on what I can or can’t become. Today I have a weekly blog with one of the largest papers in Malta, a monthly blog with Cambridge university, an autobiography that has launched in 6 countries, an International Peace Prize from the city of Bremen in Germany, and a young leaders award by the Queen of England. All because I refused to give up and I dared to dream big. If I can do it so can everyone else.

My book is called “Never Arrive” and next year I am moving to my next challenge: Iceland, here I come!

BOX: Farah on the importance of Pride
“Pride for me means celebrating our identities. This is very important, especially for LGBTQI people, because we are constantly told that we are not good enough. We are not human enough. We are a mistake and sinners. So pride validates our existence. Visibility is extremely important in our community.

As a young person growing up in Kenya struggling with my gender identity, I remember following San Francisco Pride annually. Watching that gave me hope. Every time I go to a pride celebration somewhere in the world I hope a young person is watching and experiencing the same hope and validation as I did when growing up”.

Photo: Yoshi Shimizu

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