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A day at Dadaab: Five stages of desperation

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An aerial view of the Dadaab Refugee camp in eastern Kenya, where the influx of Somali’s displaced by a ravaging famine continues, on July 23. AFP PHOTO/Tony KARUMBA

An aerial view of the Dadaab Refugee camp in eastern Kenya, where the influx of Somali’s displaced by a ravaging famine continues, on July 23. AFP PHOTO/Tony KARUMBA 

By SAMANTHA SPOONER

Posted  Saturday, August 20   2011 at  18:38
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A Day in Dadaab: Arrival

Dadaab refugee camp is the most prominent symptom of the drought that is plaguing the Horn of Africa and affecting 12 million people. In a couple of months it has become the world’s largest refugee camp as, every day, some 1,300-1,500 refugees cross the Somali border into Kenya and head for the settlement. The camp now hosts approximately 400,000 people and it has been transformed into a ‘complex’ of three camps: Ifo, Dagahaley and Hagadera

Young men queue to begin the recognition process.
Young men queue to begin the recognition process.

1.Upon arrival at the camp, refugees patiently wait for their turn to begin “the process.” They have been walking for days without food, and sometimes water, yet the atmosphere is calm and it is a surprise to see such a high number of young men in as against women and children.
The first stop is the reception point. This is where “recognition” takes place; it has replaced the usual “registration” procedures due to the high volumes of people coming in. This will take place later on. Some of the refugees are huddled under a small structure that offers them protection from the sun, while others queue, squatting on their heels, in the fine dust.

Refugees receive clothes and shoes on arrival in Dadaab camp
Refugees receive clothes and shoes on arrival in Dadaab camp. Philippa Ndisi-Herrmann/AfricaReview

2.They are called forward in small groups and led to a room with benches. Here they are called forward again, and their fingerprints taken to keep a record of them and to prevent them from registering for another batch of rations later on. Having been “recognised,” they now move into a room where a couple of men sit behind brightly coloured piles of donated clothes and shoes. Refugees shuffle silently into a space where their shoe size is quickly determined and clothes are thrust at them. They then move on to a small table laden with in packets of “high-energy” biscuits and pasteurised milk. Their situation is so desperate that getting some food into them on arrival has become a priority.

Newly arrived Somali refugee Soundo Sarat and her four year old malnourished child recover at the Ifo II camp, the extension of Ifo camp. PHOTO/TOM MARUKO

3.The next stage of the process is to briefly evaluate their health. Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) ushers refugees through a well-structured procedure — nutritional screening, antenatal care and immunisation. This is the first time small wails can be heard from the children who up to this point have been eerily quiet. Those labelled as severely malnourished are taken to a hospital in the camp where medical attention is given to them. Here it was rare to see the face of a man.

The daughters of Nurto Nunow Ahmed, a Somali woman, take refuge from the sun in their self-made structure on the outskirts of Ifo camp

4.Having been medically assessed and treated, the next point of call is food distribution courtesy of the World Food Programme and Care International. The refugees are separated from the large sacks of food by a wire fence through which they receive their supplies. These rations are given according to family size. For example, one scoop of wheat flour for one family member. They are also given maize meal, cooking oil, sugar, salt, beans and utensils, meant to last for three weeks. A wristband is attached to their arm for identification and the collection of future supplies. For those single women or men with several small children, the task of carrying these supplies is a daunting one but they can always opt to barter away some of their newly acquired food supplies for a donkey cart to help them find a place to pitch camp on the outskirts.

The organisations operating in Dadaab work like a military unit. They are processing the refugees as fast as they possibly can but once on the periphery the refugees are thrust into uncertainty once again.

Newly arrived Somali refugees and her children at her cooking corner at Ifo 2 camp which is the extension of Ifo camp at the MÈdecins Sans FrontiËres Hospital in Dadaab Refugee camp, on July 12, 2011. PHOTO/TOM MARUKO
Newly arrived Somali refugees and her children at her cooking corner at Ifo 2 camp which is the extension of Ifo camp at the MÈdecins Sans FrontiËres Hospital in Dadaab Refugee camp, on July 12, 2011. PHOTO/TOM MARUKO
5.Being on the outskirts means that they have no shelter and they scrape anything they find together in order to build one. They could wait weeks, in their small domed contraptions assembled with dead trees, plastic bags and used card-board boxes, before they are transferred to the “official camps.” These camps offer hope of water, toilets, schools and medical services.
In an area of Dagahaley known by the refugees as Bula Bakti (crudely translated as “carcass dump”), they are waiting to be relocated. Due to overcrowding, a section called “IFO extension”, or Ifo 2 was created. However, the Kenyan government prevented refugees from moving in and this has caused many of them distress. But there is hope. Following a letter from the Kenyan government, they should be moving in this week.


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