No Relief In Sight For Somali Refugees In Kenya

Aug 24, 2011

Even in the relentless heat and dust of the sprawling Dadaab refugee settlement in northern Kenya, camp residents observe the dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast.

Hawa Abdi is among them. She is from southern Somalia, a part of the country where famine has been declared by the United Nations. She says she has been a refugee at Dadaab for the past six months and is receiving assistance — but still would like more food and other aid.

In preparation for the ifthar, the meal that breaks the daily fast, aid workers hand out rice, meat and vegetables several hours before sundown.

New Pledge Drive

The difficult conditions remain, and the African Union is to hold a pledging conference Thursday to raise money and awareness of the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, especially in war-weakened Somalia.

The U.N. is seeking an additional $1.5 billion for the Horn of Africa. Meanwhile, African governments have been sharply criticized for not doing enough to help people suffering in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.

More than 12 million people in the region need humanitarian assistance, nearly 3.5 million in Somalia alone. Refugees from that country continue to stream across the border into Kenya, seeking security, shelter and food.

Abubakar Mohamed Mahmood is a Somali-Kenyan who has worked for 20 years in the Dadaab settlement — which now houses more than 400,000 refugees.

"I can say primarily what is driving them from Somalia today is famine and drought," says Mahmood, who works for Medecins San Frontieres, also known by its English name, Doctors Without Borders. "People are leaving Somalia because the only way to save life is to present yourself where assistance can be offered."

Refugees Still Coming

Mohamed says more and more Somalis are fleeing into Kenya.

"These people have endured insecurity for the last 20 years in Somalia," he says. "They had a coping mechanism of how to live with insecurity. But now, after the rains have failed for the last three years — the pastoralists have lost their animals, the farmers cannot farm any longer, and now they have been rendered extremely poor."

As well, the country's weak government is battling an Islamist insurgency.

The new arrivals from Somalia have been housed in what's become a tent city on the perimeter of the camp. Nur Bule Ali, and his wife, two sons and daughter, are among the refugees there.

"I came from Mogadishu and stayed almost eight months here at the refugee camps. I fled because of insecurity and war, I ran away at night, and my family was all helter-skelter. Life is better here in Kenya," he says, "because of shelter, peace and guaranteed security."

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