Waiting in Dadaab : The story of a new refugee

    We meet Asli at the registration centre in IFO sitting under a leafless tree with her four children, one of whom keeps crying. When we ask her what the problem is, Asli says that the child is two years old and mentally challenged, and he has had a fever for the past few days. When asked whether she had taken him to hospital, she tells us that the registration process is more important at the moment.

    'When we get registered, we will be settled enough and we can then seek medical care, 'she says.

    With nearly 1,500 people arriving in the Dadaab refugee camps in North-eastern Kenya every day, registration of new refugee families and their settlement into the camps can take upto three weeks. Before, this whole process could be done in three days.

    To help people cope with the delay, CARE, in partnership with the World Food Programme, has upscaled emergency food distribution to new arrivals. CARE staff provide new arrivals with three weeks of food, instead of a two-week supply. Once families are registered in the camps, they are entitled to receive regular food rations, and critical support such as access to safe drinking water and medical care.

    The life Asli led with her family in Somalia took a turn after all the cattle and goats they owned died because of drought and her crops failed due to lack of rain.

    'The situation got worse every day. We spent all the little resources we had, until we had nothing more to spend, 'says Asli, whose children are aged between three months and four years.

    'The sight of seeing our children crying, and me having no breast milk for my baby, made my husband Abdi Osman Abdi decide to take the little money of our savings and come to Dadaab Refugee Camp which we had been hearing about while we were back at home. Even some of our neighbours had fled to Kenya because they said in Dadaab there are different agencies that give food, medical care and education for free and that's all we need.'

    Their journey from Somalia was long; it took the family five days to reach the Ifo refugee camp in Dadaab. They went to the reception centre after their arrival and they were given wrist bands to prepare for registration and access to safety and support from the many aid groups working in Dadaab.

    But in the confusion of arrival, Asli and her family didn't know how to go to the food tent to receive their food rations. According to CARE staff, so many people are arriving, exhausted, traumatized and hungry, they sometimes get confused over how to access the necessities that they are entitled to. Asli and her family happened to come across CARE staff who we were giving information to new arrivals about how to get assistance, and how to report and seek counselling if they had been attacked or sexually assaulted as they fled Somalia. Asli and her family had found shelter in a makeshift structure outside the camp, along with all the other new arrivals - but it had been 13 days since Asli's family arrived, without food.

    'My children are sick and hungry,' she says. 'We have been here from six o'clock in the morning. It is now one o'clock, and the sun is hot. We do not have any money with us. We have been seeing women selling tea and mandazi (local donut - ike pastry), but we cannot afford it. We will wait to get registered then we can go look for food from any good Samaritan.'

    As soon as CARE staff found Asli and her family, we quickly arranged with UNHCR to ensure they received their three-week ration of food, and soon they will be registered and settle into their camp in Dadaab.

    But Asli's relief at arriving in Dadaab - a hot, barren camp in the middle of nowhere - shows how difficult her life was at home in drought-stricken Somalia. It shows how important it is to find long-term solutions to food shortages and drought, to help people stay at home, instead of seeking shelter in overcrowded refugee camps.


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