The death of the 12-year-old girl in a river near the UK city of Manchester leaves worrying unanswered questions, so the British Somali community is campaigning for a full investigation.
The death of 12-year-old Shukri Yahya Abdi, in the little town of Bury outside Manchester in the UK, was made even more tragic by the fact that she arrived as a refugee with her mother and siblings two years ago.
They arrived through the Kenyan refugee camp Dadaab, and not directly from Mogadishu as had been earlier reported. Shukri, the eldest of five, was described by her mother Zam Zam Ture as a “quiet girl” who was “so happy and so focussed on her future”.
I had an exclusive interview with Shukri’s aunt Saynab Hareed who had some breaking news to share after family members viewed the body at the hospital mortuary; Shukri’s body had broken bones and bruises on the back of her head, which suggested that she fell in the water backwards hitting her head and died likely as a result of that rather than drowning.
When asked about the recent reports on social media that Shukri had bite marks on her body, Saynab, whose mother helped to wash Shukri’s body and prepare it as part of the Islamic Janazah funeral ritual, added that Shukri did have marks on her body that were not consistent with bite marks but instead showed an injury as a result of falling into the river.
She also added that the part of the river where Shukri Abdi’s body was found was a rocky, shallow part, not deep enough to drown in, which further suggests that Shukri would have fallen in backwards and hit her head on the rocks. The question that this poses then is whether she fell or was pushed.
It has been reported that Shukri was with four classmates at the time of her death on the evening of June 27. In the latest statement by Manchester Police, Detective Inspector Naismith told the hearing: “It appeared Shukri and some friends had gone to the river to play after school [and that] Shukri went into deep water and got into difficulty, but there was nothing to suggest any third party involvement.”
Shukri’s aunt says her niece was found around midnight and that if Shukri was playing near the river after school in the evening with friends, then it seems highly unlikely that she would have gone into the river without any witnesses.
Instead, for Shukri’s body to be found close to midnight, that would indicate that any potential witnesses would choose not to report this incident during the time that it happened because Hareed adds, Shukri would not have been by the river by herself at night.
Shukri’s school Broad Oak High School, which recently changed its name to Broad Oak Sports College, some are saying, in the wake of Shukri’s death, has been under fire for its lack of immediate response to the death.
On July 4, I reported on Twitter that the school had responded to the announcement of a peaceful demonstration outside the school by closing an hour and a half before it began. Broad Oak is no stranger to controversies, in 2015, Caroline Bailey, a mum-of-two and popular teacher, committed suicideafter complaining about staff bullying. Two weeks ago, Shukri died under mysterious circumstances after being bullied in the same school.
This case is reminiscent of 15-year-old Syrian refugee Jamal in Huddersfield who was strangled and ‘waterboarded’ by fellow students in Almondberry Community School in 2016, after also having lived in the UK for only two years.
What’s important to note here is that Jamal’s family reported several instances of verbal and physical bullying to the school which failed to safeguard him from being abused, even within its premises.
This is a worrying echo of what Shukri’s mother Zam Zam Ture has said in the first interview after Shukri’s death; that she reported incidents of bullying and that Broad Oak Sports College has since denied the complaints of bullying.
Last Friday’s remembrance protest quickly turned into a spirited demonstration that coincided with Shukri’s funeral at which locals were demanding justice.
Campaigner Maz Saleem, whose father Mohammed Saleem was brutally murdered in 2013 by right-wing terrorist Pavlo Lapshyn who had arrived in the UK five days earlier, has been involved in the campaign for Shukri. She says: “We live in an Orwellian state with Big Brother watching our every move. What GMP (Greater Manchester Police) is trying to convince us of is that on the day of Shukri’s disappearance and death nobody saw anything, no CCTV cameras were working, and nobody needs to investigate.”
This comes after fellow campaigner Shabnum Kalsoom created a petition to demand that local Bury MP James Firth investigates the death of Shukri, which had reached 65,000 signatures at the time of this report.
What we know for sure at this point is that there is a growing movement for the cloud of mystery surrounding Shukri’s death to be lifted with a thorough investigation by local MPs and Greater Manchester Police, and additional protests are being planned across the UK.
Once again, the power of social media has brought this story from a local news piece to a mystery reported on a global scale, in which the British-Somali community in particular, of which I am a member, are demanding that the narrative of this case remains one of transparency and justice.
So often, the Somali story has been one of forced migration. I came to Europe as a child refugee. In so many ways, Shukri is all of us – she represents hope, resilience and the right to exist without fear. It is in that spirit that the fight for justice for Shukri Abdi must continue.
By Hanna Ali