Meet Mohamed Tounkara, a Guinean Asylee Living in the United States

For World Refugee Day this year, we are launching a campaign, #FaceTowardsHope, to feature the stories of refugees—their strength, their resilience, and their hopes for the future.

Mohamed, 19, grew up with his mother in Dabola in the northeastern region of the Republic of Guinea in his uncle’s home. Mohamed never knew his father; he was conceived out of wedlock and his uncle’s family looked down upon his mother and himself. While a teenager, Mohamed met another young man, Mimo Kake, and fell in love.

But homosexuality is illegal in Guinea, as it is in many countries in Africa, so Mohamed kept this relationship a secret. In December 2017, a little more than a year into the relationship, Mohamed and his partner were attacked by a crowd in Conakry, Guinea’s capital. Mimo Kake was killed, and Mohamed was beaten and then arrested. He was imprisoned for a month and a half, and tortured with electric shocks. He escaped during a period of political upheaval in early 2018, but his uncle’s family, claiming that Mohamed had brought shame upon them, threatened to return him to prison.

So in March 2018, Mohamed fled Guinea for Sierra Leone and then flew to Guayaquil, Ecuador. After six days in Ecuador, he crossed into Colombia and then made his way to Panama through the difficult and dangerous Darien Gap. He endured several days without food and armed men attacked and robbed him. He was traveling with a group of about 15 migrants—from Nepal, Cameroon, and Cuba—and also a fellow Guinean. Mohamed carried the man much of the way through the Gap, and his friend helped pay for food and other items on the way to the U.S. border, thousands of miles away. But when they arrived at the U.S. port of entry, the two became separated. Mohamed said he lost track of the man and he is not sure what happened to him.

Mohamed asked for asylum in Laredo, Texas in September 2018. Although he passed his credible fear hearing, he was detained in the Rio Grande Detention Center for 10 months. As an “arriving alien,” who asked for asylum at the port, he was not entitled to a bond hearing before an immigration judge and Department of Homeland Security officials  refused to grant him parole. Unlike most detained asylum seekers, Mohamed had an attorney to help him prepare an effective asylum case. His hearing was delayed several times, but finally took place on June 5, 2019, before a judge sitting in the San Antonio immigration court. Mohamed “appeared” via video conference while still in the detention center. After an hour of questioning, the judge granted Mohamed asylum. “This is the end of this part of your immigration experience,” the judge said. “I wish you the best—make the most of this grant of asylum.”

“You are my family,” Mohamed told the attorneys and advocates who helped him with his asylum case.
— Mohamed Tounkara

For months now, this is just what Mohammed had been waiting for. He does not have any family in the United States—“You are my family,” he told the attorneys and advocates who helped him with his asylum case. But he has a contact in Philadelphia, and plans to go live there. He would like to learn English, go to school, and make up for the months he lost and suffered in detention. He is only now able to mourn, recover, and build a new life in the United States.


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