How do I prove I'm from Somalia so as to claim refugee status in the U.S.?

How to obtain an identity document as a refugee who fled Somalia.

Question

I am a citizen of Somalia who lives in Kenya without papers. I was forced to leave my country because of the war. Now I do not feel safe in Kenya, because people here think Somalis are terrorists. I do not want to live in a refugee camp because life there is very bad. I do not have the money to pay people to help me travel to Europe. I have some family in Uganda and other countries. But my friends say a lot of refugees from my country go to America. I want to do this legally but I have no papers. What can I do?

Answer

In order to be legally admitted (or to be “resettled”) as a refugee in the U.S., you will need to obtain a  referral  to the U.S. Refugee Admission Program (USRAP).

To obtain a referral to USRAP, you will need to register your refugee claim with the local office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This process should allow you to obtain an identity document – either a certificate (or other piece of identification) from your host government or a “mandate” from UNHCR.

Registering your status in Kenya probably means that you will be required to settle in a refugee camp. But in other neighboring countries like Ethiopia and Uganda, you might be allowed to obtain a refugee identity card while living on your own or with others in the city.

In any case, you will need to prove – both at the beginning of the registration process and later on when facing immigration officials from the U.S. – that you are indeed a citizen of Somalia (as opposed to, for example, a Kenyan citizen of Somali origins). To prove your citizenship, you will probably not be expected to produce a Somali passport or identity card. (In fact, such  documents  are typically unavailable and might not even be accepted.)

Instead, your knowledge of the Somali language and culture, the details of your personal background, and your link to other members of the Somali community are likely to be emphasized. You will get a chance to convey this information during your interviews with UNHCR and U.S. officials. Consider asking Somali friends and family members to testify on your behalf on those occasions.

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