“We took the chance that was in front of us and we did not take it for granted,” he says, speaking in a broad American accent. “We have followed the American dream, as they get in touch with it. We have all gone to college and we have all graduated.”
But his household members weren’t refugees, and they weren’t born in Somalia — they have been born in Kenya, and he says his father faked their refugee status in the 1990s to get into the US.
“I really feel terrible for them [the real refugees], but at the exact same time it is all about initially come, initially served. I really feel like if they had come just before us, then we would have been the ones to remain and they would be the ones who would have gone,” he says.
He agreed to speak to CNN on the situation of anonymity, afraid of becoming identified out.
Refugee status really should be reserved for men and women fleeing across international boundaries from targeted persecution or war.
But in Kenya, house to one particular of the biggest refugee populations on the planet, tens of thousands of registered refugees are not refugees at all.
A CNN investigation has determined that from the late 1990s by means of 2016 an untold quantity of these fake refugees have been resettled in the US and elsewhere.
A sprawling haven
For decades, the chaos in Kenya’s troubled neighbor, Somalia, pushed wave just after wave of refugees across the border. They came in buses, on donkeys, and from time to time by foot.
But as the quantity of men and women moving to what was as soon as the world’s biggest refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya swelled from thousands, to tens of thousands, to hundreds of thousands — there have been several who registered as refugees who did not qualify.
“We have had Kenyans that have been caught in the refugee database more than the final 25 years. Some of them have been seeking for meals, for shelter, for possibilities,” mentioned Mohamed Dahiye, a Kenyan member of parliament for Dadaab.
He mentioned several men and women in nearby communities saw the absolutely free solutions and absolutely free meals and registered at the camps, saying they have been from Somalia. Generally these Kenyans have been a equivalent ethnicity to the men and women streaming across the border. Occasionally they have been just as desperate for support, several arriving in the course of occasions of drought and hunger in northern Kenya.
All told, there are at least 40,000 Kenyans registered as refugees in the Dadaab camps alone, according to each UNHCR and government numbers, in what officials euphemistically term “double registration.”
“The ‘double registration,’ as we get in touch with it, or the Kenyans registered as refugees in Dadaab, is an situation we know about and the government knows about as effectively,” mentioned Fathiaa Abdalla, the UNHCR representative in Kenya.
She does not blame the Kenyans who registered as refugees.
“I assume as a human becoming you want to survive. You want to survive, and you do not have a terrible intention. These solutions have been out there in the refugee camp, but not out there to you in the village,” she mentioned.
Omar Sharif did not reside anyplace close to Dadaab camp — he lived hundreds of miles away along the Kenyan coast. And in 2009 he saw his chance.
“A pal of mine was functioning as a teacher in the camp and told me about the absolutely free education and absolutely free health-related solutions,” mentioned Sharif, admitting that resettlement was also a probable target.
He ran away from college and traveled to Dadaab, presenting himself to officials as a Somali who had fled across the border.
At the time, only the most fundamental, face-worth proof was expected to register, due to the fact possible refugees necessary instant meals and medicine.
“They did not interrogate me. If perhaps they had performed that, I would have told them exactly where I came from. They only asked for my age. And they just filled out the type for me,” he mentioned.
“I knew it was incorrect,” he mentioned. “An individual who has gone into the refugee database, and is a fake refugee, has produced a error, due to the fact they have taken the rightful spot of an individual else. “
He says in spite of the help, he promptly realized he could not manage the harsh situations of the camp and moved to Nairobi in hopes of regaining his Kenyan status.
But guilt is not Sharif’s only burden his refugee registration has develop into an intractable Catch-22.
“This is my Kenyan birth certificate,” mentioned Sharif as he pulled a black carry-on case out from beneath his bed in Eastleigh, a predominately Somali neighborhood in the city.
“This is my refugee quantity,” he mentioned, displaying his one of a kind ID on his cellphone.
When Kenya announced it would close the camps and began repatriating Somalis, all of a sudden refugee status became a liability for men and women like Sharif.
“They will be getting no Kenyan status and they do not belong to Somalia, so they are essentially becoming stateless,” mentioned Dahiye, the MP for Dadaab.
“Refugees” like Sharif say they cannot access overall health care, formal jobs, insurance coverage and any quantity of solutions that are out there to Kenyans. He says his government demands to do far more to de-register the thousands of fake refugees nonetheless in the method so they can reclaim their Kenyan identity.
Like ‘winning the lottery’
UN officials liken resettlement, even as a wave of anti-immigrant sentiment has spread by means of Europe and the US, to “winning the lottery.”
The UN Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) estimates that there have been far more than 20 million probable resettlement candidates by the finish of 2018 much less than 1% of them have been resettled in the course of that year.
Via social media and relatives that stayed behind in Kenya, CNN identified quite a few Kenyans who weren’t supposed to have refugee status that managed not only to register, but to resettle as refugees in Europe, Canada and the United States.
It is a hugely sensitive subject in Kenya.
Kenya’s official government spokesman and head of the Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS) declined to be interviewed for this story.
But a senior official managing the Dadaab camp method admitted that resettlement has occurred for fake refugees.
“It is incredibly unfortunate, but they have been attracted by the goodies they could get in these nations. They took the chance to be resettled and it is unfortunate that they took the possibility of bonified refugees. I do not assume it will occur once more” mentioned Joe Nguli, a lead official in Dadaab for RAS.
Abdalla, the UNHCR representative, mentioned she wasn’t conscious of any fake refugees becoming effectively resettled.
“I am not conscious of any Kenyans becoming resettled as refugees. I inform you why, due to the fact the resettlement plan goes by means of diverse verification and diverse checks and balances,” Abdulla mentioned, adding that she was confident that the method would catch Kenyans seeking to resettle as Somali refugees.
The UNHCR’s official resettlement handbook says resettlement is “specifically vulnerable” to fraud. In Kenya, as in other nations, they keep a “zero-tolerance” policy to corruption.
“We have a zero-tolerance policy, we have anti-fraud committees, we have anti-fraud focal point in the camps, we have support line for refugees or any individual, you could get into our support line appropriate now and report something. These systems are incredibly fantastic, and they are functioning,” mentioned Abdalla.
“I am not saying [in] this major organization, we are 100% excellent. But we have measures in spot, we have enhanced them in the final two years. But we can’t exclude a case taking place. And when a wrongdoing takes place by our employees, they are disciplined, they are sanctioned and some employees (have) lost their job.”
A State Division spokesperson mentioned the US has a “zero tolerance policy for fraud, waste and abuse of American taxpayer sources,” adding that “the US performs its personal detailed interviews and safety checks of refugee applicants. This course of action involves measures to confirm the nationality of refugee applicants.”
“Cooked” from the starting
But for “facilitators” in the course of action — the middlemen who take and distribute the bribe dollars — it is the initially layer of vetting by the Kenyan government and the UN that matters the most.
“It is at the incredibly starting of the course of action — just before the applicant even gets to the US embassy vetting, the choice has been performed at the UN level,” mentioned one particular facilitator who mentioned he has been exploiting corruption inside the UN to game the resettlement method for years.
He agreed to speak on the situation of anonymity.
“The UN will know the criteria and make confident the paying clientele match all the specifications. So, it can be cooked at the UN level,” he mentioned.
He mentioned that the final corrupt US resettlement course of action he was involved in, exactly where clientele spend in between 10 and 20 thousand US dollars to assure resettlement, occurred in late 2016.
“Just before the Trump ban it was a booming business enterprise,” he mentioned. His business enterprise is now focused on other nations, exactly where refugee resettlement quotas are larger. He mentioned his final case was just a handful of months ago.
Shopping for your way in?
President Donald Trump’s initially so-known as “travel ban” in early 2017 produced refugee resettlement even tougher.
The ban integrated a moratorium on refugees. And due to the fact the moratorium expired, only a trickle of refugees get in.
But even with the squeeze on refugee resettlement to the US and the various checks in spot, it hasn’t stopped men and women from attempting.
The young Kenyan in his twenties is nervous, fidgeting in his high-priced white sneakers. He mentioned that his important to refugee status was purchased by means of a diverse facilitator.
“I met him by means of a pal. And the pal told me that he had performed it for so several other folks,” he mentioned.
CNN agreed not to reveal his identity due to the fact his attempts to purchase resettlement are illegal.
With each other with his brother, he mentioned they paid the facilitator $300 each and every to get refugee status.
They have been not too long ago taken to a refugee reception center in Nairobi.
“He told me to say I was born in Somalia, that I came by means of the border in a bus complete of men and women. That we have been operating from there,” he mentioned, although he has never ever set foot in Somalia. Quickly just after they got their refugee cards and numbers.
They are preparing to spend the middleman $12,000 in hopes of acquiring into the US.
“It tells you every little thing. There is a lot of corruption involved. Persons are prepared to do something for dollars,” he mentioned.
It is not possible, at this stage, to confirm no matter if the broker will be in a position to get the siblings into the US. And there have been situations of broker scams.
Nevertheless, for Kenyans hoping to fake their way into the method, the draw to resettlement nations which includes the United States remains sturdy.
“It is incorrect, it is incorrect, it is incorrect,” the young Kenyan mentioned of his plans. “But if you can, you can get a improved life.”