In Somali slang, there is a special word for the daydream of starting a new life in a far-off land: it’s known as a bofis. And for millions of refugees across Africa, there is one bofis that obsesses people above all – the idea of moving to the West, and in particular to the US.
For most, it remains an impossible dream. But there is one legal way in which even those without wealth or connections can do it – getting a lucky break in the US Diversity Visa Program, better known as the green card lottery. In 2013, nearly eight million people applied for just 50,000 winning tickets, which means that for every 1,000 applicants only six won the chance of a new life.For the past year, I’ve followed the story of one of the winners – a young Somali refugee called Abdi Nor Iftin, living in the Eastleigh district of the Kenyan capital Nairobi. Known as Little Mogadishu, it’s one of the country’s toughest slums. And one thing I discovered is that becoming an American is not easy, even for those who do have a winning ticket.
There is no denying that there is something a little strange about the Diversity Visa Program. At a time when immigration to most Western countries is becoming ever more restricted, the US government still gives away 50,000 permanent resident visas each year to people chosen at random from across the world. Entries from most developing countries are permitted, and only a high school education, or a few years of work experience, are required. The stuff of a true bofis.