World’s largest refugee camp shelters families fleeing famine

Dadaab camp, Kenya, now has more than 400,000 refugees seeking shelter, with as many as 1,500 new arrivals per day. Among them are Mariam and Awliya, who faced incredible desperation and loss during their journey away from famine in conflict-torn Somalia.

By Kari Costanza and Kenneth Kibet. Edited by Elisa Casey, World Vision U.S.
Published August 18, 2011 at 12:00am PDT

Mariam sits among other weary famine survivors at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, surrounded by her three sons.

Her littlest child coughs in her lap. Flies are everywhere. They land on her sleeping child.

“It took nine days to get here,” she says. “We came because of the hunger and the drought.”

The family came from Baidhabo in Somalia. They have been in the Dadaab refugee camp for two months.

400,000 refugees and growing

Dadaab recently set a new record after registering its 400,000th refugee. And people are still coming — as many as 1,500 per day. There is now a backlog to register new refugees.

Many wait anxiously for months to be registered. It is critical to their survival. Once they are registered, they are given food rations.

‘They are here because of famine’

So many other families at the Dadaab camp, like this one, share the same situation as Mariam and her children: waiting for their turn to be registered, so that they'll finally receive food rations.Ninety-two percent of the refugees in Dadaab are Somalis. The rest of the population comes from Ethiopia, Sudan, Congo, Uganda, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, and Burundi.

The prolonged drought is behind the large exodus, says Aaron from the Department of Refugee Affairs.

“The reason they are leaving Somalia is food,” he says. “Seventy percent of the people coming say they are here because of famine — not war.”

Most of the refugees arrive with nothing. “There are a lot of people that need help. Real help,” Aaron laments.

Mariam’s story

After two months in Dadaab, Mariam and her family are still waiting to be registered as refugees in Kenya.

“We exhausted everything there [in Somalia],” she says. “There was no more to eat. The children asked for milk and for water.” But, she had nothing to give them.

“We’re waiting for our registration card. We will get the rations and treat the children. They are sick,” Mariam explains.

Mariam and her family may be here for a very long time.

‘There was no food in sight’

Mariam sits and waits with another mother and widow, Awliya. The two women traveled from Baidhabo together. Awliya’s journey to Kenya began the day her family ran out of food. Like Mariam, she has three sons.

“There was no food in sight,” she says. “The drought didn’t stop. We decided to leave.”

Awliya says that she and her family were stopped by bandits on the first day of their journey out of Somalia, who robbed them of everything they had.Awliya’s son, Mohamud, 15, is hopeful about his future in Kenya.

“In Kenya, my life will change. I hope I will get an education here in Kenya,” he says. “I have never been to a school. I want to be educated like other people.”

‘I am hungry — but there is peace’

Though relieved to have made it to Kenya, the family remembers their dangerous and difficult journey from Somalia.

“The first day into the journey, bandits stopped our vehicles, robbed us, and beat the men,” says Awliya.

Mohamud continues, “They took everything we had. I was afraid. They were shooting their guns into the air.”

He adds quietly that several women were raped.

“I am happy to be here. We will find peace here. In Somalia, there was no peace. I am hungry — but there is peace,” expresses Mohamud.

Ways you can help

Pray that Mariam and Awliya will soon receive food rations and medical attention. Pray for the 400,000 people already in Dadaab and for those arriving daily, that they would soon feel relief.

Make a one-time gift to World Vision’s Horn of Africa Food Crisis Fund. Your donation will help provide emergency food and care to children and families suffering from hunger and malnutrition, as the worst drought in 60 years rages on.

Give monthly to provide support to children affected by hunger. Your monthly contribution will help us deliver assistance like food aid, agricultural training, and more.

Sponsor a child in East Africa. Your love and support of a boy or girl in need will help provide essentials like nutritious food.