From Somaliland to Brussels


This is a story of personal achievement against all odds, of a positive outlook far removed from easy clichés.  A long journey, with no happy ending yet in view.

We are aware of the personal tragedies of migrants and refugees, travelling to Europe from Africa or the Middle East, risking everything, even their lives, to escape war and poverty. We watch them every day on TV, trekking the Balkans or crossing the Mediterranean in shabby boats, and those sad images represent this modern exodus in our minds.

Very seldom we go further in search of the root that causes so much misery. The CNN syndrome, of intense coverage of a human drama and a conflict just for a few days, to be totally forgotten and replaced by another piece of Breaking News, clouds our understanding.

We never see what happens after the migrants’ arrival in Europe, besides some images of crowded refugee recep6on centers. Instead, we simply imagine (or fear, by the growing xenophobic extreme right) that they are taken care of by our generous welfare state.

In this photo reportage we try to show SHAÏWAL’s daily life, how distorted this image of passive vic6mhood and public generosity is for many migrants like him. Their story is one of courage, drive and resourcefulness, overcoming all odds to build a decent life.


SHAÏWAL comes from Hargeisa, the capital of Somaliland. He belongs to the Isaaq Clan, whose members live mostly in the North-western Somaliland and the Somali Region of Ethiopia, where civil war and foreign aggression continues unabated.

In Brussels, SHAÏWAL shares a house with 20 other Africans and Arabs all of them studying as their benefactor requests from them.





At the entrance of the building one of the migrants must sleep every night in the rickety chair.


He has received nothing in terms of governmental support since he arrived in Belgium several years ago, not even a regularization of his refugee status, his obvious right coming from a Somalia consumed by decades of civil war.




After three failed attempts, SHAÏWAL prepares to filing for asylum for the fourth time.



Over these challenging years, SHAÏWAL has learned several languages and done many odd jobs …


… from selling in Molenbeek Market,



to working as a tourist guide organizing promenades



including “Resistance and Deportation during the Nazis Occupation in Belgium” …even though he is a Muslim.


This morning, the police arrested six migrants during a raid on SHAÏWAL’s house. The police locked them in

the prison of Zaventem, where the Brussels airport is. Everything seems that they will be expelled from the country.