African plane stowaway’s despair at new life in the US

Troubled teenager who flew to Hawaii in jet's wheel well wanted to be with mother in Somalia

PUBLISHED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 9:07pm
UPDATED : Monday, 28 April, 2014, 9:07pm


He was young, displaced and frustrated, and he wanted nothing more than to reunite with his mother in their native Africa.

The 15-year-old Somali boy had been arguing at home, and in the kind of impulsive move that teenagers make, he hopped a fence at San Jose International Airport, California, last Sunday and clambered into a wheel well of a jetliner headed for Hawaii.

He survived the freezing five-hour trip and he has not spoken publicly about the ordeal.

But his desperation and frustration - borne from a life in a new country and new culture, all of it without his mother - is becoming apparent through interviews with friends, family and law enforcement agents.

His father, Abdulahi Yusuf, said in a statement issued through a family spokesman that his son was "struggling to adjust to life in this country".

"Our situation was aggravated by our displacement in Africa for many years after fleeing our home country of Somalia because of war conditions. As a result, my son was not able to receive any formal education before we immigrated to the United States," the statement said.

The father said he planned to fly to Hawaii soon to be reunited with his son, who is still in hospital there, and was "excited to bring him back home to his family in California".

He said the family was "deeply concerned" when the boy went missing and was relieved to hear he was safe.

The struggles faced by immigrant children were echoed by Talha Nooh, of the Muslim Community Association, where the family were members.

"What people need to understand is that these young teens are coming from a country torn by a civil war with no basic education and suddenly put in these high schools or elementary schools where they have a cultural shock," Nooh said.

"This whole thing should be looked at in the context of a teen who is emotionally attached to his mum and grandparents," Nooh added. "The father is working 24 hours a day to take care of family here and other family members in the horn of Africa."

For decades, Somalia, from where the family originated, has been plagued by internal conflict, drought and violence.

A UN official said the boy's mother, 33, lived at the Sheder Refugee Camp in Ethiopia.

Speaking with Voice of America radio from the refugee camp, the teenager's mother, Ubah Mohamed Abdullahi, said her son had recently learned that she was alive after being told by his father she had died.

"I know he was looking for me, and I am requesting the US government help me reunite with my kids," she said.