Flow Of Somali Refugees Puts Strain On Kenyan Town

  • Women line up to sign up for World Food Program emergency distributions in Dolo, Somalia, on July 24. World Food Program executive director Josette Sheeran has estimated 2.2 million Somalis are in desperate need of aid.
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    Women line up to sign up for World Food Program emergency distributions in Dolo, Somalia, on July 24. World Food Program executive director Josette Sheeran has estimated 2.2 million Somalis are in desperate need of aid.
    Jason Straziuso/AP
  • A Somali refugee mother and child sit in their makeshift hut on the edge of the Hagadera refugee camp on July 24. The camp makes up part of the giant Dadaab refugee settlement.
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    A Somali refugee mother and child sit in their makeshift hut on the edge of the Hagadera refugee camp on July 24. The camp makes up part of the giant Dadaab refugee settlement.
    Oli Scarff/Getty Images
  • Somali refugees return from collecting water July 22 at the edge of the Dagahaley refugee camp, also part of the Dadaab settlement.
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    Somali refugees return from collecting water July 22 at the edge of the Dagahaley refugee camp, also part of the Dadaab settlement.
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  • Aden Salaad, 2, is bathed by his mother in a tub at a Doctors Without Borders hospital, where Aden is receiving treatment for malnutrition, in Dagahaley camp, outside Dadaab, Kenya on July 11.
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    Aden Salaad, 2, is bathed by his mother in a tub at a Doctors Without Borders hospital, where Aden is receiving treatment for malnutrition, in Dagahaley camp, outside Dadaab, Kenya on July 11.
    Rebecca Blackwell/AP
  • Newly arrived refugees wait for tents at the Dagahaley camp on July 21. The refugee settlement at Dadaab was designed in the early 1990s to accommodate 90,000 people, but the U.N. estimates more than four times as many reside there.
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    Newly arrived refugees wait for tents at the Dagahaley camp on July 21. The refugee settlement at Dadaab was designed in the early 1990s to accommodate 90,000 people, but the U.N. estimates more than four times as many reside there.
    Oli Scarff/Getty Images
  • The worst drought to affect the Horn of Africa in six decades has affected an estimated 11 million people. Somalia has been hardest hit.
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    The worst drought to affect the Horn of Africa in six decades has affected an estimated 11 million people. Somalia has been hardest hit.
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  • Relatives and friends watch as the final shovelfuls of dusty soil are placed over the grave of 4-year-old Aden Ibrahim, on the outskirts of Ifo 2 camp on July 12.
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    Relatives and friends watch as the final shovelfuls of dusty soil are placed over the grave of 4-year-old Aden Ibrahim, on the outskirts of Ifo 2 camp on July 12.
    Rebecca Blackwell/AP
  • Refugees wait in the registration area of the Ifo refugee camp on July 20.
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    Refugees wait in the registration area of the Ifo refugee camp on July 20.
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  • Suldano Osman, 1, is steadied by her mother's hand as a pediatrician attaches a feeding tube to aid her treatment for malnutrition at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the Dagahaley camp on July 11.
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    Suldano Osman, 1, is steadied by her mother's hand as a pediatrician attaches a feeding tube to aid her treatment for malnutrition at a Doctors Without Borders hospital in the Dagahaley camp on July 11.
    Rebecca Blackwell/AP
  • An elderly refugee rests in the Ifo refugee camp on July 20.
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    An elderly refugee rests in the Ifo refugee camp on July 20.
    Oli Scarff/Getty Images
  • A malnourished cow walks along a road near the giant Dadaab refugee settlement on July 21.
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    A malnourished cow walks along a road near the giant Dadaab refugee settlement on July 21.
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Thousands of refugees continue to flee drought, famine and conflict in Somalia, seeking shelter and food in neighboring Kenya. But Kenya too is suffering from drought in the arid and semi-arid north of the country.

The northeastern Kenyan town of Dadaab is already home to more than 400,000 Somali refugees. Many younger Somalis have never been to Somalia or have spent almost their entire lives in the refugee camps in Kenya. In the past few weeks, thousands more Somalis have crossed the border to escape hunger and famine at home.

Life In Refugee Camps

"It's not interesting to live in a refugee camp because a lot of your rights are not there," says Bernard Ole Kipury, Kenya's acting district commissioner for Dadaab. "If you want to move from Dadaab to Nairobi, you need a movement pass. If you want to move from any part of the camp, you need a movement pass. So your freedoms are in some way curtailed."

That's likely the least of the problems for thousands of Somali refugees, including malnourished children, who continue to stream over the border into Kenya in search of food and peace.

Sadiya Kassim Mohamed is one of them.

A Somali refugee woman carries a bag of food aid at the entrance to the registration area of the Dadaab refugee settlement in Kenya. While refugees receive international humanitarian aid, local Kenyans fighting drought get sacks of rice, beans and oil from the government. i i

A Somali refugee woman carries a bag of food aid at the entrance to the registration area of the Dadaab refugee settlement in Kenya. While refugees receive international humanitarian aid, local Kenyans fighting drought get sacks of rice, beans and oil from the government. Oli Scarff/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Oli Scarff/Getty Images
A Somali refugee woman carries a bag of food aid at the entrance to the registration area of the Dadaab refugee settlement in Kenya. While refugees receive international humanitarian aid, local Kenyans fighting drought get sacks of rice, beans and oil from the government.

A Somali refugee woman carries a bag of food aid at the entrance to the registration area of the Dadaab refugee settlement in Kenya. While refugees receive international humanitarian aid, local Kenyans fighting drought get sacks of rice, beans and oil from the government.

Oli Scarff/Getty Images

"On my way to the camps, we were attacked by bandits twice, and they even stripped everyone naked. We were all stripped. All of us, including the women, men and even the children, were stripped naked, and myself," Mohamed says through a translator. "I begged them. I begged for mercy. Before he took off my clothes forcefully, I had a 4-month-old baby who was on my back. He asked me, 'Take off your clothes.' When I hesitated, he began pulling them one after the other. I was feeling helpless and with no protection."

Drought Squeezes Local Population

The flood of Somalis into Kenya puts increased pressure on scarce resources and the local host community in Dadaab. The host community is less than half the size of the refugee population. The government's refugee camp officer, Haron Komen, says people must remember that northern Kenya too is experiencing a crippling drought. He says the drought affects the nomadic herders and their livestock, and is exacerbated by the influx of Somali refugees.

"It has actually worsened the situation. We are in a very fragile geographical environment here. We are in semi-arid and arid land, where the vegetation is quite scanty," Komen says. "It has quite been a challenge."

There's potential for more trouble, he warns, despite a sympathetic and supportive local Somali-Kenyan community.

"The little resources that are there, they are shared with them, the water, the space for grazing, so conflict is bound to arise," Komen says. "The refugees, when they receive the food, [some of it] needs to be cooked. And that cooking actually requires fuel. Fuel means cutting down the trees to be able to get the fuel."

Raised voices and a chaotic air of desperation overwhelm an attempt at food distribution in Dadaab. While the refugees are looked after by international humanitarian agencies, needy drought-weakened Kenyans are being given sacks of rice, beans and oil donated by the government. The authorities say some locals have registered as refugees. Angry women and men argue furiously over who gets what as officials struggle to divvy up the supplies.

Security Concerns

One local leader trying to pacify the Kenyans in search of food aid is Abdizamed Hussein Hassan, an elder in the Dadaab community. He says he's had experience avoiding run-ins between the Somali refugees and the host Somali-Kenyan population.

"We have a lot of disturbances from the refugees. Sometimes the refugees are looting cattle and cows, goats, because of hunger," Hassan says. "Our role is to sit with them and to find solution to stop their looting. There is a dialogue between them and us. If there is a fight, we sit down and make solutions."

Even more serious are reports of weapons circulating within the Dadaab complex. The Kenyan refugee camp officer, Komen, says this is a major concern to the government.

"It is also putting pressure on our security. We don't have enough personnel to man all the borders. It is porous," he says. "So, what is the implication of having a large number of people over which you don't control? You have no idea who could be a threat to security. That is complicated by the presence of al-Shabaab and possibly al-Qaida operatives in Somalia."

Kenya says the international community must do much more to curb anti-Western al-Shabaab militants in neighboring Somalia, restore a central government and return the refugees home. An extension of the camp complex is ready to open in Dadaab. But Kenya stands accused of dithering, saying it needs guarantees of security.

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