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Refugee’s baby thrown like ball into the sea; story told to award-winning photojournalist


By P.J. Aroon of Foreign Policy magazine:

Can you even begin to imagine the heartache of watching your newborn baby being tossed into the sea? That’s what happened to Salima, the young Somali refugee in the photo above. I was alerted to her photo and story by an email last week from the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). The woman who captured Salima’s image, photojournalist Alixandra Fazzina, is being honored with the UNHCR’s Nansen Refugee Award for her “tireless dedication to uncovering and portraying the overlooked human consequences of war.” Fazzina spent two years in Somalia following refugees escaping across the Gulf of Aden to the Arabian Peninsula. Salima’s portrait graces the cover of Fizzina’s resulting book, A Million Shillings: Escape from Somalia, forthcoming in September.

Here’s a summarized paraphrasing of the moving caption that accompanied Salima’s photo:

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Basatine, Yemen, March 2008 — Salima, 19, now lives in a cramped, dark safe house controlled by human traffickers. Once she saves up $25 through begging, the traffickers will drive her to the desert, allowing her to get to Saudi Arabia, where she’ll most likely spend her days enslaved as a maid in someone’s home.

The last six weeks have been a nightmare for Salima. She had been living in Mogadishu, Somalia, with her baby boy and husband. Six weeks ago, while pregnant with her second child, she left her home to buy bread. While out, mortars hit her house. “I found my husband and child, but they were not with us anymore,” she told Fazzina, the photojournalist. The two had perished in a random attack perpetrated by the very soldiers who had been entrusted to protect the people.

Seven months pregnant, Salima decided to escape. She journeyed northward 20 days in a truck until she reached the area near Bosaso. Salima, along with 120 others, entered the water and were hauled onto a small, wooden boat. Because she was pregnant, she was allowed to sit with her legs out. Everyone else had to sit with their knee to their chins.

In the rough seas, Salima began to get contractions and started bleeding. The crew, who had been drinking gin and smoking marijuana, and who were armed with guns, knives, and hammers, moved her to the front of the boat. She thought they were helping her. Salima passed out. When she woke up, she saw a crew member toss her newborn baby into the sea — like it was nothing more than a ball. “My baby was all I had left of my husband,” Salima told Fizzina.

After landing at a deserted Yemeni beach, Salima was registered at a UNHCR-operated center. She even saw a doctor, but it was too painful for her to talk about what had happened. Now, all alone, without family, she is a traumatized teenager, barely an adult. So, she’s back with the traffickers. Her final destination? “Where Allah takes me,” she says. Realistically, she’ll toil in virtual slavery as a maid  in someone’s home in  Saudi Arabia.

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Ify Okoye is a Muslim woman, a convert, born and raised in the U.S. She is from New York and her parents are from Nigeria. Despite the petty hassles of work and school, Ify finds time to travel usually for AlMaghrib Institute seminars and to visit beautiful places. Pronunciation primer for her name, say it like this: E-fee O-coy-yeah!



  1. Amatullah

    July 20, 2010 at 2:31 AM

    SubhanAllah. I can’t even imagine. Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’oon. May Allah unite them in Jannah.

    We live in such a huge bubble.

  2. muslimah

    July 20, 2010 at 4:24 AM

    i’m at a loss of words…the only thing i can do is make du’aa for her.

  3. Suleiman I. Hadejia

    July 20, 2010 at 5:45 AM

    Subhanallah! I can’t immagine that. Though safe will the help of animals, I pray that Allah will finally land her in the hand of a God Fearing people to take good care of her.

  4. Farhan

    July 20, 2010 at 2:38 PM

    This is a heart-breaking story. But, what’s equally heart-breaking is making Du’a for someone…and then buying a new pair of shoes. Yes, we make Du’a for these people, but we also GIVE our MONEY (yes, money) and time for these people.

    That means you spend on these people the same way you’d spend money on the new iPhone 4.

  5. Sister

    July 20, 2010 at 4:30 PM

    Inna lillahi wa inna ilayhi raji’oon…May Allah help her and all other oppressed brothers and sisters .May Allah give us all hidayath not to harm anyone in any form..

  6. elham

    July 20, 2010 at 6:19 PM

    Inna lilahi wa inna ilhayhi raji’oo…its so mind-boggingly disgusting how humans can be worst than animals treating a helpless baby this way. ”Where Allah takes me” she said, may Allah keep her iman steadfast and raise her degrees in this life and the next and protect her from any harm,Ameeen.

  7. Sally

    July 20, 2010 at 9:13 PM

    this breaks my heart.. to be so alone in the world.. May Allah protect her and all the other young, orphaned, widowed victims of war.

  8. Ann

    July 20, 2010 at 10:29 PM

    Maids aren’t enslaved in Saudi Arabia. They get paid. There is no slavery system there. I hope Salima finds a good home and very good people InshaAllah.

    • Yasmine Hernandez

      July 21, 2010 at 12:55 AM

      Lets Pray she does… and whats up with that “AWARD WINNING PHOTOJOURNALIST?” Why aren’t they helping more… ? so they just used her story probably gain some popularity because of this and heck with the sister huh? man… I hope thats not the case…

      ‎[13:24] “Peace be upon you for what you patiently endured. And excellent is the final home.”

      • sister

        July 23, 2010 at 3:36 PM

        That is what I always wonder when I read these sort of books or photo journal… I feel even worse that readers will read, perhaps cry for a bit, then go on living in a “bubble.” Hopefully, some will help, InshaAllah. May Allah guide us All. ameen

  9. sebkha

    July 21, 2010 at 2:47 AM

    What’s up with the “award winning photojournalist” Alixandra Fazzina is that she recently won the Nansen Refugee Award, which is issued by the UNHCR for “outstanding service to the cause of refugees”. She’s certainly no slouch. She’s been to some of the most wretched, miserable places on this Earth in the last ten years, and in doing so makes it impossible for anyone to deny what’s going on there. The Nansen award she won included $100,000, all of which she gave to charity. There’s no basis whatsoever to accuse this photographer of using anyone for popularity, or slandering her with the accusation that she has no regard for Salima or the thousands of women like her that she’s encountered in her line of work. I’m very glad there are people like Fazzina out there, because what her work has done to increase awareness of some of the terrible suffering people are enduring around the world is immeasurable.

    • Yasmine Hernandez

      July 21, 2010 at 2:56 AM

      Jasak Allahu Khair Sebhka… certainly I did not mean to slander her. If anything I did not do research on her or even look her up to verify if she indeed does charity. I made a conjecture on how the story ended and it was very disheartening. Which my point of view was completely valid. How is one to know whether they are getting helped? she just talked about her situation and how she will LIVE for the rest of her life!

      there certainly should have been some outlets on how we can provide some help.

      • Ahmed B.

        July 21, 2010 at 4:02 PM

        A large part of a photojournalist’s job is spreading awareness of stories like sis. Salima’s. Like many journalists, Alixandra probably encounters heartbreaking stories many times over. Perhaps it is impossible for her as an individual to help all those she photographs, but by calling the attention of others she may ultimately aid the population as a whole, inshaAllah.

  10. ill allah

    July 22, 2010 at 12:29 AM

    The headline should read ” Muslim Kills Muslim”

    • sj

      July 30, 2010 at 2:42 AM

      this comment should be taken down because of the writer’s ‘name’

  11. someone in awe

    July 22, 2010 at 2:47 PM

    My heart shouts to the Creator to give me imaan and certainty like Salima and few of the commentators above.!

  12. Nazih

    July 24, 2010 at 7:53 PM

    Inna lilahi wa inna ilhayhi raji’oon. I can’t imagine what she must be going through. May Allah grant sister Salima patience and make it easy for her during this trying time.

  13. Gurabah

    August 1, 2010 at 8:18 PM

    Salamu Alaykum,

    Ina lillah Wa Ina Illahi Rajioun!! Jazaka Allahu Khairen for this heart moving, mind boggling story. Those who are tested to this extent are those loved by Allah. I ask Allah that He grants her Sabr and that He replace her child with another, Ameen. That He reunite her with her child in Jannah. For me its a reminder to be VERY THANKFUL AND GREATFUL for what i have here in the West. A reminder to say Alhamdulillah too OFTEN in my life and when i have it harder remember that someone elses has it harder!!!!!
    Not to take away from SALIMA ‘s journey but these kind of incidents happen too often in the Golf of Aden. Listen to BBC somalia

    You take away “Naharis” Mercy from a human heart then you have unfortunatly an animal

  14. Girl

    November 10, 2010 at 7:53 PM

    Whoever said that maids arent enslaved in Saudi Arabia, really does have poor knowledge of the world. my heart goes out to her and i shall make dua for her and her child.
    – genrally maids (especially those of foreign decent ie; not arab) are treated disgustingly, they are basically their owners possesion and anything could happen to her.
    – She thought if she could leave her god forsaken country things could get better for her (insha’allah it does) but realistically its only going to get worse, especially as shes a young female, shes not aware of the world yet and is very vulnerable.
    – She should have travelled further north to Hargeisa, Burco or even Puntland. There are alot of refugee camps set up around there and although the living conditions arent that great, its better, its better for her to have stayed in her own country, illahay knows what the future has in store for her, insha’allah its something positive because shes already experienced too much heartache for a girl of her age.

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