MANKATO — Nasra Ibrahim had it easy, relatively speaking, when she fled from her home in Mogadishu, Somalia.
Her city began to crumble during the early 1990s when political unrest turned into tribal fighting before exploding into a violent civil war. She was able to escape quickly by boarding a passenger jet and flying to Kenya, but she's heard the horrible stories about the dangers other refugees faced. Many of those stories are told to her by other Somalians living in the Mankato area.
Some people walked for weeks to escape the violence. Ibrahim's friend, Fatima Salah, rode inside a car full of people, including a few who rode on top, to make the trip to Kenya. With Ibrahim translating, Salah recently talked about seeing the bodies of people who couldn't finish the trip lying next to the road. Some men carried rifles to protect their families and friends from hungry lions and other predators.
Escaping Somalia, surviving the refugee camps and adjusting to life in the United States wasn't easy. So both women said they were shocked when they heard about a group of young men who ended up joining the extremist military group al-Shabab. The men had been recruited to fight in Somalia by a group operating in the Twin Cities.
"It was horrible," Ibrahim said. "They were saying, 'Be glad you're living in Mankato.'"
The women said they don't believe those types of recruiters would be successful in Mankato. The Somali community here is too close and that has a lot to do with the support of the Mankato community as a whole, especially its education system. Both women have children in the Mankato Area Public Schools system.
At the same time, Ibrahim can understand the desire Shafi Qanyare has to one day return to Somalia to do positive work. The young Mankato man, who graduated from East High School in 2008 and is now a graduate student at Minnesota State University, is only a few years older than Ibrahim was when she left Somalia. He was 11 years old when he left the war-torn country.