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Teen stowaway's Somali mother wants kids back

A teen boy is seen on a stretcher after FBI and airline officials said he survived a flight from California to Hawaii in a wheel well on Sunday, April 20, 2014. (The Maui News/Chris Sugidono)

April 28, 2014 12:00:00 AM PDT
Ubah Mohammed Abdule spoke to an Associated Press reporter about her son, Yahya Abdi. She said the 15-year-old boy had recently learned she was alive after his father had told him she was dead.

The boy was unhappy in California and missed his mother desperately, according to those who know his family. She hasn't seen her son for eight years.

Abdi climbed a fence at San Jose International Airport on April 20 and stowed away in the wheel well of a jet airliner en route to Hawaii. He survived the 5.5-hour flight despite sub-zero temperatures and low oxygen levels.

"I knew he was an intelligent boy who has strong affections for me. I also knew he always wanted to see me, but I know his father won't let them contact me at all," Abdule told an Associated Press reporter in a remote refugee camp in eastern Ethiopia.

Abdule said her ex-husband took Abdi and his two siblings to California without her knowledge. She said she hadn't heard from them since 2006.

"He first took the children away from me to Sudan. Then he came back to Somalia and demanded my consent for him to take the children to the U.S. if I wanted a formal divorce. I was not OK with that and said no," Abdule said through tears. "Finally, he took all three of my children to the U.S. without my knowledge."

"I prefer they be with me rather than live with a stepmother in the U.S.," said Abdule, who has two other children, an 8-year-old son and 5-year-old daughter, living with her in the camp.

Abdule, 33, arrived in the camp in early 2010, after fleeing heavy fighting in the Somali capital, Mogadishu. She earns a small income selling vegetables in the camp market. Tears rolling down her cheeks, Abdule said she wants to leave the camp and reunite with her children and has asked the Ethiopian government and the U.N. refugee agency to help her do so. Abdule may yet be able to reunite with her children in the U.S., U.N. officials said.

She has passed her first interview with the U.N. refugee agency's list of those who might qualify to immigrate to America, said a legal protection officer at the refugee camp, Abdlrasak Abas Omar. If she passes the next phase, he said, she could move to the U.S. in less than a year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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