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Leaders of Unites #68 - Selom Kiflemariam

This story is written in honor of Delilah Kiflemariam

I am always looking for ways to develop myself, living in Saudi culture as a minority was holding me back

My name is Selom Kiflemariam. I am 37 years old. I am Eritrean, as is my father and my mother is Ethiopian. I was born and raised in Saudi Arabia. I arrived in the Netherlands in 2013. Back when I was growing up in Saudi Arabia, it was a very conservative and islamic country. Sharia Law runs deep. Having a Christian background makes you a minority.. Growing up, I was used to the limitations that came with being a minority. I had learned how to live ‘strategically’, how to behave, how to interact with others, what I needed to do and avoid. I didn’t experience or consider  it as a limitation. It just was the way of life I was accustomed to. I was blessed to know some of the best Saudi people and no matter the personal differences, there was so much love and care between us. As I grew older, many of my friends moved away to other countries for studies or their careers. This was the first time I felt the desire to take life decisions steps since I couldn't get any further on my goals or ambitions. That is when I decided I wanted to move away and find opportunities and a better life  in another country. 

With the help of Delilah

I decided I wanted to go to the United States. I also knew that simply going to the embassy and requesting a visa would not be an option for me. Migration laws are very strict, especially for people from non-western countries. My only option was to pay a lot of money to go through a business network of people creating an opportunity for me to travel. At the beginning of 2012 my sister Delilah, who is younger than me, came up with the plan for her and my dad to cover my travel expenses.

My journey did not take me to where I expected to go. I ended up in a better place.

The plan to get to the US was to reach Mexico and a week later to cross the border to Texas with the help of smugglers. Which is a big risk because you have to go through the Mexican gangs or cartels. The consequences could be high, but it was the only option I had to get to the USA and create a better future. I was able to secure a ticket to Mexico, with a transit  through Amsterdam. After several flights and layovers myself and the group of people traveling with me finally made it to Mexico. At that time there was a huge terrorism threat and border security was very strict for everyone traveling from the Middle East was.  Eventually we were stopped and questioned by customs officers. One person in my group had messed up their story and ended up getting all of us rejected access to Mexico. We were told we would be put on the first flight back to Amsterdam. 

Upon arrival in Amsterdam my Saudi ID had expired, so I also couldn’t go back to Saudi Arabia. I entered into the asylum process in the Netherlands. I first got arrested and detained, then I got transported to the detention center next to the airport where I stayed for two weeks. Next I moved to an ‘AZC’ where I lived for 1 year . It took a year for my visa to get approved by the Dutch government and another six months to find a place to live. I ended up in Rotterdam. Right now, I am approved for my Dutch passport and ID. All I have to do is pick them up. I am saving up for it because it isn’t cheap.

The first years after I got to the Netherlands, back in 2012, were really tough for me. I was very upset with the way my journey had gone. In Mexico I almost made it through customs. I could already see outside the customs doors and we were stopped at the very last moment. This was such a tough break mentally. After that I ended up in a country that I had no intention of being in. I knew no one and on top of everything I lost my little sister Delilah. We always called her Faith. She was the rock of our family. She took care of all of us and there is so much in my life I have her to thank for. Losing her really broke my spirit.

For several years I was in a really dark place. I was just coasting, having negative thoughts and feelings. I couldn’t appreciate the fact that I had made it out of Saudi Arabia and was living in a Western European country at all. It was tough on my entire family. After accepting help from others and of a therapist I started to do better. For the first time since getting here I am now able to enjoy life a little. To meet new people, to do new things. Things are turning up.


One of the most important people in this transition was Miquel and his beautiful family. He did not just become a close friend, I now consider him a brother. After meeting him I got back into basketball, improved my game, became part of the local basketball community, made more friends and last year I even became a 3X3 Leader. I love 3X3 Unites a lot. I love working with the 3X3 Leaders and the kids. It’s so nice to give back and work young people. 

In the future I see myself having a small business. Someone might describe it as a restaurant, but I would describe it more as a food experience with delicious and simple recipes. At this time I am working hard to save up to achieve these goals. I am pretty focussed on making money. But the goal is not to be richt, the goal is to support the people that I love and care for. 

I want this story to be written in honor of my sister. I don’t want her to be forgotten. Her name is Delilah. We called her Faith. I owe her so much. We love and miss her. 

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