Teen Stowaway’s Mother Says Her Son Thought She Was Dead

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Photo: TED ALJIBE/2008 AFP

Yahya Abdi has been hospitalized with breathing difficulties since making his way from California to Hawaii in a jet's wheel well a week ago, and as the 15-year-old recovers in Maui, his parents have been squabbling from opposite sides of the world. Hawaiian authorities say the boy told them he ran away after an argument with his father and stepmother, and was trying to reach his mother in Africa. On Friday, Voice of America located Abdi's mother, 33-year-old Ubah Mohamed Abdulle, who lives in a refugee camp in Ethiopia. She claims that her ex-husband told Abdi and his two siblings that she was killed, and they only learned the truth recently. "I felt bad that he risked his life," she said of her son's miraculous flight. "I was told that he did this because of me."

Abdulle accused her ex-husband of mistreating their children, and said she hasn't heard from them since 2006. "I am a mom who feels the pain of her fragmented family, some people told me how bad they [my kids] were treated," she said. "I am requesting the U.S. government to help me reunite with my kids," she said, adding, "My dream is to live with them [my children], and when I get that, it’s going to fulfill my ultimate dream of having my family [by my side]."

In a statement released on Sunday the boy's father, Abdulahi Yusuf, said he plans to fly to Hawaii soon, and is "excited to bring him back home to his family in California."  Yusef did not mention any of his ex-wife's allegations but said his son has been having difficulties since immigrating to the United States four years ago. "My son, like many immigrant children, is struggling adjusting to life in this country," he said. "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. Yahya is a good kid who I love dearly."

Abdi remains in the custody of Hawaii's Department of Human Services, and it's typical for social workers to assess a runaway's family situation before releasing them. One of Abdi's friends, who asked to remain anonymous, told the Associated Press that he's quiet, shy, and religious. "Every day he was telling me: 'I miss Somalia, I miss my mom,'" the friend said. "He just wanted to see his mom."