A day at Dadaab: Five stages of desperation
Posted Saturday, August 20 2011 at 18:38
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.