IT WAS the stuff American dreams are made on. A few weeks ago, Yussuf Hussein, a Somali who came to the United States in his teens, was living in Boston with his wife and two children, earning $70,000 (£43,000) working for a computer software company.
Now, he and more than 30 other American-Somali men are holed up in a squalid hotel costing $2 per night in downtown south Mogadishu, without either money or passport, determined to return home.
In late January, officers of the Immigration Naturalization Service arrived unannounced at the offices of Intel Corp and arrested Mr Hussein. They refused to tell him what he had been charged with, taking him instead to a cell without access to a lawyer or a telephone. He has not been able to contact his family since.
'It was three days after Black Hawk Down was released (on January 18),' he said of Ridley Scott's film depicting the ill-fated mission of the US Rangers on October 3, 1993, to bring peace to Somalia and destroy the grip of the warlords.
His is the tale of about three dozen American-Somalis who have been sent back to Somalia by the US without charge or reason. All, except for one woman, are young men who emigrated with their families to America as young teenagers or babies to escape almost a decade of civil war.
Not under arrest yet and without any means, many are heading north to escape across the Somalian border and make the long journey home to America. But even if they survive the journey, they have no money nor papers to prove their existence.
Somalia, still on the verge of anarchy after a decade of civil war and vicious internecine clan fighting, has become a dumping ground for deportees from America and the Middle East. These American-Somali refugees arrived last week in Mogadishu without any means of support. All had been taken from their homes or offices across America, brought by air marshal to Buffalo, New York, and then transported by a hired Dutch crew first to Amsterdam, later Djibouti and finally Somalia.
They claim to have been denied their basic civil rights, beaten and threatened with injected sedatives 'if we caused any problems'.
'We were not allowed to make any telephone calls,' Abdulrazak Allen, 23, from Atlanta, said. 'I was taken from my classroom and met with an immigration officer. The next thing I know I was here. I don't even speak the language.'
En route, the men were shackled. Several say that they were drugged during the flight. Medication, including insulin for one of the deportees, a diabetic, as well as anti- depressants, were taken away. Their cash was frozen and they were issued with checks that they are unable to cash.
When the group arrived in Djibouti last Sunday they met the local press who announced to the public, 'come and meet the Somali terrorists'.
'They kept asking if we knew any al-ittihad,' said Jama Jama Jaffar, referring to an Islamic group in Somalia that has links to al-Qaeda. 'They kept asking if we knew people who killed people in Somalia. I kept telling them that I left Somalia in 1978! I don't know anybody.'
His first phone call on arrival was to his mother in America to send him some cash. 'I am not a stand up guy,' says another. 'I have a misdemeanor for car theft. But I am not a terrorist, and I know no one connected with any terrorist organization.'
The men, aged between 19 and 34, are afraid to walk the streets of Mogadishu as any foreigner here is met with hostility. As one Somali put it, 'these men are not Somalis. You can tell a mile off they are from America, and people here do not like Americans.' They are unarmed and cannot hire militias to protect them as the few other foreigners who arrive here are obliged to do.
Amnesty International said it was not aware of the plight of the Somali-Americans, but a spokesman in London said that there had been several other cases of Pakistanis being deported from America in dubious circumstances.
The Immigration and Naturalization Service said last night it would look into the claims. A spokesman could not confirm that the deportations had taken place but pointed out that under US law any individual who commits certain crimes and is not a naturalized citizen is liable to be deported.
The families of most of the men are taking legal action, though this is hampered by their lack of means. The key to their case, they say, is that under international law it is illegal to deport people to a country without a central government.
There is no central command in Somalia. The Transitional Government is recognized by some Arab countries and grudgingly by the United Nations, but not by Europe or America. It controls only part of Mogadishu and a small coastal strip while the rest of the country consists of two breakaway regions and a land littered with warlords.
Copyright 2002 Times Newspapers Ltd.