Paulos As a Refugee In Kenya

It was May 26, 2000 when I crossed the Kenyan boarder at around 11am! I came to the village of Kibish, and was looking for a flag to show me a police station, and I walked in. The police officer seemed nervous due to the unexpected situation of my arrival. One of the officers told me that he never saw a person come to the police station and introduce himself as an asylum seeker. He said people were hiding from us but you come to us directly. My answer to him was "I saw the flag then I know I'll be protected. I thought I'll be killed by someone before I get into the station now I feel safe!"

Then I asked for water, and he gave me water. After few minutes a lot of officers arrived to the station and interviewed me in different style. Then they gave me roasted beans and corn mix (Marague). The station commander told me that I have to stay the night in the station for my safety, and early in the morning I will be sent to Lodwar.

The night was too long by myself in the room without mattress, blanket and light. The morning came and nobody opened my door. Around 10:30am two police officers opened the door took me to the back of a trailer which was packed with people, wood goats, sheep, cow skins and goat skins as well. The stench was very bad. Around 3pm, in one small town they told us that somebody died from our truck, and the driver has to be interviewed. After few hours, we started our journey to Lodwar where I thought I will be treated as refugee. We arrived there Sunday May 28, 2000 and I realized that I had to stay in the police station until I see a judge before they took me to refugee camp. I was registered as prisoner around 11:30pm in Lodwar police station. The size of the room and the number of the prisoners are same as Ethiopia. The only difference was the temperature inside the room, it was too hot and I was there for 5 1/2 days. I didn't eat, but I drank mud water.

After three days, the judge ordered the police to escort me to Kakuma refugee camp. That was June 2 ,2000. I spent just about a month in Kakuma, along with the thousands of refugees without any mattress, sleeping on dust. I felt the coldness around 3:00am; that is always when it feels the coldest.

Mr. Hazam, a United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Field Officer, called me to his office and said, “Due to the sensitivity of your case we are sending you to Nairobi, and you will be protected there. Here is money for transportation ticket.” The budget was only for transportation, no money was given for food and drink, but I was happy. After two days of horrible journey, Friday June 30, 2000 around 1:30 am, I arrived to my 6 month feature home Westlands Nairobi UNHCR gate. The driver of the bus showed me the building and dropped me and left to his final destination. I went to the door, and the security guard showed me where the refugees sleep. Nothing fancy; it was just on the street. I remember the days I spent without food and water.

In 2007 Paulos (L) his brother assafa (R) and their now deceased father gebeyehu

In 2007 Paulos (R) reunited with samuel garsho and his family. Pastor Wes Midgett (L) with the group at Samuel's home.

One day, I heard a person crying in Ethiopian language, so I approached him and started speaking to him in his language. He increased his voice and kept shouting. Another Ethiopian woke up and told me about that person’s mental and visual disabilities due to the lack of UNHCR care. He introduced himself as Girma Chewaka from Addis Ababa university and told me that he was there for six months. He forecasted that I will stay even more than him. Friday around 8:30am I went inside for registration. I was called to the office, and after they took my picture, they told me to wait outside the office. Later in the afternoon I received appointment slip for two months. I shouted and told them that I have no place to stay the night. Then they called me back to the office to meet the protection officer, Mr. Samuel Nyakirega. He gave me a referral letter to see Mr. Cyril Ubiem, a social worker, on Tuesday July 4, 2000. He gave me 200 Kenyan shilling equivalent to $4.00 Canadian. Then I went outside and stayed at the UNHCR gate Westlands . I met with the social worker, and he sent me back to see Mr. Samuel. Then I was interviewed by Samuel and he said I will get resettlement, but before that, he has to add people in my file then he must receive $3,000-$5,000 US dollars (a bribe). I said “no” to him and everything changed. I was escorted out from the office by security. Finally, I went to see the senior protection officer, Mr. Peter Okoth Aingo. I told him about the incidents with Mr. Samuel and Mr. Cyril, and he then told me to leave the room. Every day when they come to office and when they go home I had a chance to say some thing to them. I asked Peter Alingo when will they start to see my case? He said “When you die in the street”. That was the day I laid in front of Jacqueline's (UNHCR branch office protection officer) car and said to her, “Listen to me or drive over me”. When I was asking for protection from Peter Olengo, the UNCHR protection officer, I didn't feel hungry or thirsty but I worried about my safety, my fear from Ethiopian securities personnel and from fellow refugees due to the tribal division between us. From my tribe I'm alone for many reasons which increased my chance to be attacked at any times.

When one of my refugee friends, Million Terefe (an Eritrean refugee now living in Denver, Colorado) saw me on the ground he joined me and another guy who was sleeping at the gate joined as well to block her car. Three of us on the road. The security guards pulled our legs and beat us. Jacqueline left that night with the names of her three employees, but we never saw her again. In the morning, we called the National TV and listed their names. It was all over the media. After the media intervention, the officers took us from outside and to the head social work department of the UNHCR branch office. Speaking in Amharic (Ethiopian language) said “Starting from this hour we do not want to see anyone out here. Everybody must go camp”. That was the time I said “Without wiping you out of this shopping mall we do not want to go anywhere. If you want us to go camp you need to change the name UNHCR to Peter Samuel Cyril shopping center. If not we will keep fighting till you start responding to the questions of true refugees.”

Following this incident the individuals were investigated and were found guilty of corruption and were relieved of duties. Many newspapers had reported on this issue and I have included links to the news articles below:

Panapress: Report-cites-massive-corruption-in-Kenya
Unhcr article

It took 6 months for us to see the corrupt person’s names listed on the gate, saying that they are no longer allowed to enter the building. One day, I was sitting as usual, when a tall white guy called my name and told me he is looking to meet me . When he took me inside to his office he introduced himself as Sargio Cole Norena: the new senior protection officer for UNHCR BRANCH OFFICE FOR NAIROBI. Saying your question is answered, I have your documents and I received them. He told me he had reviewed my file from the beginning and now he is sending me to Goal Accommodation. On the 26th of January 2001, I went to Goal Accommodation Center. After 6 months of life on the street without basic needs, I had hope. On February 12, 2003, I flew over the desert between Kenya and Ethiopia on my way to Canada! (Continued on Arriving in Canada).

My name is Paulos Gote. My goal is to help the people of South Omo improve their lives. I do that by bringing peace, joy and opportunity through new ideas, projects and investments.

The meeting with Wes Midget, pastor of Central Church of Christ, has triggered the ideas and projects and investments that have started a small transformation in the South Omo region.

Education is the main hope for the people of South Omo region. Strengthening the education system, bringing more teachers and improving school facilities is of utmost importance.