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Finding peace at a refugee camp

Teviah Moro
Adan Maalim, a World Vision staffer in Kenya, speaks to a Somali refugee in Dadaab, Kenya, on Saturday, Aug. 20. Dadaab is where more than 500,000 refugees reside, making it the biggest refugee camps in the world. The refugees are fleeing starvation and violence in Somalia.

Adan Maalim, a World Vision staffer in Kenya, speaks to a Somali refugee in Dadaab, Kenya, on Saturday, Aug. 20. Dadaab is where more than 500,000 refugees reside, making it the biggest refugee camps in the world. The refugees are fleeing starvation and violence in Somalia.

DADAAB, Kenya - Adan Maalim is corralled by a crowd of Somali refugees who are desperate for tents at the world's largest refugee camp in Kenya.

Many have walked several days to escape both violence and starvation in their native Somalia.

Maalim, who works for World Vision, listens patiently. The men's tone gets more and more heated.

This week, World Vision provided 5,000 tents and 5,000 more are expected in the next seven days.

But 1,300 more refugees make their way to this dusty, barren landscape every day, inflating Dadaab's population, which already sits at more than 540,000.

The refugees are desperate. But there's not much Maalim can do except listen.

"What is given is not enough," he says. "The (Kenyan) government is still appealing for more NGOs to come on the ground," Maalim says.

More than 50 non-governmental organizations are operating in Dadaab, which is located near Kenya's northeastern border with Somalia.

The United Nations World Food Programme is trying to keep up with the ever-rising need for food and commodities.

But this takes time and progress is at the mercy of how quickly donors respond, says spokesperson Caroline Hurfurd.

"It takes an average of three to four months from receiving a donation to providing food for beneficiaries," Hurford noted in an email.

Malim, 50, has worked for World Vision for 17 years. He says Dadaab is no walk in the park.

"This one is a hectic one."

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Somalia's border with Kenya is fluid.

Refugees flow over in trucks if they're lucky enough to have sold their remaining household items to pay the freight.

Abdullah Adan Mohammed wasn't lucky enough. He walked 25 days with his second wife and five children to arrive here on Friday.

They escaped both hunger and violence.

When Al-Shabaab, a militant Islamic group at war with Somalia's fledgling government, demanded some of his cattle, he made the mistake of showing resistance.

The rebels responded by shooting his first wife and their eldest son.

ANISOM (The?African Union Force in Somalia) is not strong enough to do away with Al-Shabaab, the 47-year-old says through a translator, his eyes flashing with a quiet anger.

"The only solution is to use an international force."

With 1,300 people arriving every day from a war-torn land, some of the violence has spilled over into the three camps that make up the Dadaab site.

Just on Friday, as a new group of refugees arrived, a man was shot and killed in broad daylight.

"When they come, many of them come with guns," Maalim says.

It's believed that some refugees are former rebels, but affiliation with Al-Shabaab is not easily proven.

"Nobody is branded," Maalim says.

Hurford acknowledges there are security concerns and there have been isolated reports of weapons in the camps.

The Kenyan army has stopped some refugees with weapons at the border, she notes.

"It may be that some Al-Shabaab fighters are deserting through hunger/drought, and it is likely that some of them have sent their families over the border," Hurford wrote in an email.

UN officials are monitoring the situation on a daily basis.

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For the migrants, life in Dadaab is better than in Somalia.

Theirs is a harsh, ramshackle existence, but, refugees say, at least there is food and peace.

Ali Dedo, his wife, Hawa Yussuf, and their five children left after the last of their livestock succumbed to the drought.

Facing starvation, they sold their remaining household items and paid for a ride in a crowded truck.

"For three years, there has been

no good food," Dedo says, cradling a young child at his feet.

The family arrived the night before.

Dedo, 35, Yussuf, 26, and their children are wearing clothes refugees who have spent more time here gave them.

The children rest on three sacks of food as they wait to get processed for a tent.

They won't go back to Somalia, Dedo says, where "everything belongs to the man with the gun."

"We are at peace. Despite our hunger, we are at peace."

Dadaab's three camps need more water. Bad sanitation is another problem.

"They are living a hard life," Maalim says.

But he points to the most important thing the refugees have here that they don't in Somalia.

"Peace."

Teviah Moro is an editor at The Packet & Times.



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