DADAAB – We’ve seen this before. At the entrance of the three refugee camps weary families stand in long lines, having fled their country for an all too familiar reason: unending war, exacerbated now by a serious drought.
Sadia Ogle arrived less than one week ago. Under a sheet metal shed, she waits in dry heat to get a yellow wristband that will give her a food ration for two weeks. To reach Dadaab, in the west of Kenya, she walked about 60 days with her five children, aged between one and seven, through the dry plains of Somalia.
“My husband and I had a farm with 30 cows and 14 goats in Afmadow, but they all died because there was no water,” she said. “There was nothing left to eat and fights were getting more and more violent in town, so I left. I had been told I could find help here.”
Ogle’s husband stayed in Somalia to take care of his parents.
By the end of June, the number of Somali refugees had increased to approximately 30,000. Almost 1,200 people arrive every day. During his visit last Sunday, Antonio Guterres, commissioner for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR), restated his will to see humanitarian aid supplied directly to Somalia – “so that Somali people don’t come here in a miserable state,” he said.
On July, 5, a spokesman for the Somali Islamist insurgent group Al-Shabbab said the organization was ready to negotiate with humanitarian organizations, which were expelled in 2009. Guterres responded that “we have to try to negotiate and see on what conditions they can return.”
The UNHCR head regrets that this part of Africa is “pushed aside by the rest of the world” and asks for “the support of the international community” to face the consequences of what has been the worst drought in the Horn of Africa for 60 years. The UN estimates that 10 million people have been affected by the drought.
In Dadaab, three out of five children suffer from malnutrition. Several deaths have been registered. The humanitarian associations in the country can so far cope with the inflow of refugees, but the crowding in the camps is another issue.
The three camps that were built in 1991 are run by the UNHRC, and are meant to have a capacity of 90,000 refugees. Today Dadaab shelters 376,000 people and has become the biggest refugee camp in the world. Newcomers must settle in the area outside the camp, where they don’t have access to its basic service. “I’ve been sleeping outside and on the ground with my three kids since I got here, three days ago,” says a young mother.
The overcrowding triggers conflicts as well. On June, 30, two refugees were killed by police during a riot that occurred after authorities demolished some illegal buildings. A few kilometres away, however, a new camp is ready to be occupied by refugees. Wells were built as well as dozens of brick houses with sheet metal roofs.
The Kenyan government, fearing a new inflow of refugees, has not yet agreed to welcome refugees in this camp despite the UNHCR’s requests. “Refugees are here temporarily,” the government says.
The refugees themselves tell a different story. “I came here in 1992,” says Abdifalah Ismail. “Peace is the one thing that would make me go back to my country."