Somali refugee hijacker Asha Ali Abdille tells court her story of survival


This story was first published on September 1, 2010.

This is the world of Asha Ali Abdille.

She tells a dark and threatening story of survival. People are after her. The police are victimising her. The Government has plotted against her.The troubled history of hijacker Asha Ali Abdille.It is the story she told at her sentencing in the High Court at Christchurch on Friday.

It has to be read in the knowledge that she has been jailed for nine years for the hijacking of a small passenger plane on a flight from Blenheim to Christchurch.

The Crown has expressed concerns about apparent inconsistencies in her account of what has happened but they accept she has had a troubled background before she left Africa, and since her arrival in New Zealand in May 1994.

The tale has to be read knowing that Abdille, now 36, has developed beliefs of persecution, has major depressive episodes and obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Her life in Africa and her survival has left her with post-traumatic stress disorder.

Her life in New Zealand has involved adjustment difficulties and behavioural disturbance. It also involved amassing 27 convictions including assault, threatening behaviour and possession of an offensive weapon.

An official who assists refugees has said her history of flight and resettlement was one of the most tragic they had ever seen.

This is how Asha Ali Abdille described her life to her defence counsel Elizabeth Bulger in the days before Friday’s sentencing. The dictated text was typed up and Bulger read it to the court. The reading took 35 minutes.

Abdille was born in Somalia in 1978, the eighth of 17 children in her family. Her father was a businessman and her mother worked in a dairy in front of the house. Life was great and they were a happy family.

She was still at school when civil war broke out in 1991 and civilians fled from Mogadishu into the bush.

Her 14-year-old brother was killed by a stray bullet during the fighting.

Abdille was separated from her family but met others in the bush and found her grandfather.

Bandits raided them and cut her grandfather to pieces in front of her.

She fled again with only her clothes, a necklace and earrings.

She went to refugee camps near the Kenyan border. Her family had fled towards Ethiopia.

There were maybe 500,000 people in the camp. Conditions were bad. Getting to the front of queues for rations from the United Nations could take three days.

Bandits came and raped and robbed people.

Abdille joined members of her clan, and things were easier but life was all about survival for about two years.

There were killings along the way as she moved to another camp. Bandits came to her tent and started to rape women older than her, took her belongings and then one of them hit her in the face with an axe.

She was lucky not to lose her eyes and she was taken to hospital in Nairobi. She was breathing through the top of her nose, she said.

While in Nairobi a UN worker brought her an envelope saying she was going to New Zealand. She did not know where New Zealand was. But she wanted to be out of Africa and it sounded pretty good.

She arrived in Auckland in May 1994, and stayed for six weeks in a refugee centre before heading for Salvation Army accommodation in Wellington.

She alleged that she met a man from the refugee organisation who wanted to own her for sexual purposes. She refused any relationship with him, and complained to the police but got no help.

She complained to the court: They seemed to enjoy looking at her and laughing while she was cold and scared, she said.

She said her benefit was stopped and she became homeless. Years followed when she lived as an itinerant, picking apples in Hastings and making plans to bring her family to New Zealand.

She decided to leave the country and travelled to Fiji intending to make her way to Australia, but they didn’t recognise her travel documents and sent her back to New Zealand.

She returned to living on the streets and continued apple picking.

She says she was harassed by the police and the man from the refugee organisation kept finding her and telling people bad things about her.

She worked for a contractor in the vineyards in Blenheim and made friends but she said there were repeated encounters with the police who, she says, damaged her flat during their visits. Her landlord evicted her.

In 2006, she was joined by her sister but problems continued and the sister was taken away to stay at a women’s refuge in Christchurch.

After she was taken away Abdille said she became a crazy person. She was very unstable and became even more isolated.

She alleged that the police started imprisoning her in her own home in late 2007.

She made her plan, booking an Air National flight and buying two knives, intending to get to Australia by taking a plane.

She didn’t want to harm or kill anyone, she said. She just wanted to get out of the country and go to Australia.

She accepts that what she did must have been terrifying for the people on the flight when she pulled the knives and three people were hurt before she was overpowered and disarmed once the plane had landed at Christchurch Airport.

The people on board believed they would all die as she demanded that the pilots crash the plane, apparently after she realised it was not going to fly to Australia.

The Crown regards her professions of empathy and remorse with some scepticism.

And now, even in a more stable condition than after her arrest, the world seems to her to be just as threatening.

She told her lawyer of being far from home in a country where no-one helped her or cared for her while she was on the run from a man who wanted to own her.

Her statement said: “The New Zealand Government has committed crimes against me by bringing me into the country under false pretences and selling me like an animal to a rich man.

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