In Kenya, the government declared a national disaster in February and food security and nutrition levels are deteriorating rapidly. Islamic Relief’s Emerging Markets Fundraising Coordinator, Nasrullah Tahir, recently visited the largest refugee camp in the Dadaab region to get a first hand account of their situation. He filed this report.

I have just returned to the UK after having the honour and privilege of visiting the second largest refugee camp in the world. The series of camps are located in Dadaab, around 80km away from the Kenyan/Somalian border and were set up in 1991 in response to the civil conflict that engulfed Somalia.

The camp was initially built to house 100,000 refugees. Today there are over 250,000 refugees of various nationalities with Somalis making up the majority of people that inhabit the camp, which is managed by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) agency. Islamic Relief is the only Muslim charity out of 30 aid organisations working in Dadaab.

Following the famine crises that hit Somalia in 2011, there was an influx of refugees, which put an inordinate amount of pressure on the camps and the surrounding local area. With the ongoing crisis in East Africa, it is expected that more people will make their way to Dadaab in the hope of finding food and water.

The camps very existence is under threat, as the Kenyan Government ordered the camps to be closed in May. Voluntary repatriation had already begun, which involved giving refugees 400 USD to return to their homelands and start rebuilding their lives. However, given the current situation in Somalia, the displaced refugees often returned along with new arrivals, thus creating an unsustainable situation with dwindling resources.

Islamic Relief successes

I was fortunate enough to witness the many incredible accomplishments that Islamic Relief achieved through generous donors. I thought that it would be both significant and compelling to recount my journey and experiences in the hope that we continue to work together in constructing a brighter future for those less fortunate than us.

Travelling to Dadaab was no easy feat and after receiving security clearance, we were instructed to book a flight by the United Nations Humanitarian Air Service. My colleague, it transpired, undertook the more arduous task of making the journey by road, which took a little over 8 hours. The outskirts of Dadaab was barren and as the heat became difficult to bear so did the thought of the many thousands that occupied such ravaged areas. I often wondered at the desperate plight of those who would leave their homes to come to an area like Dadaab that had so little to offer.

After having arrived at Dadaab, we had the pleasure of meeting the Deputy Assistant County Commissioner of the local area. For the last 26 years, the Kenyan Government has been supporting the refugee camps and has succeeded in making it into a safe place of refuge.

Islamic Relief was also responsible for ensuring that it continued to function for the many thousands who were displaced from their home. As such, the work undertaken by Islamic Relief was greatly appreciated by the Government and it was a great pleasure to witness the results of the charity’s hard work.

Islamic Relief has long been concentrating its efforts on many projects for both the local host community and the refugees. This includes water, education, microfinance and providing long-term support for orphans. Islamic Relief is currently managing 18 primary schools in the camps.

One such project involved a school powered by solar panels, which is being run by Islamic Relief. It was incredibly inspiring to witness the social and educational progress that children were making, despite the tough environmental conditions.

However with such hope the reality was not far behind; the classrooms were overcrowded and very often there were up to 90 children per teacher. Despite these circumstances, Islamic Relief has ensured that the teachers are qualified so that the children were receiving the best education possible. It was also admirable to see that there were a number of policies in place to protect the children from potential harmful incidents.

Islamic Relief considers it an obligation to protect these children from both a moral and Islamic perspective, and it is reassuring to know that the rights of these young people are taken so seriously from a very young age.

Islamic Relief was also managing the local hospital alongside six health posts. It was remarkable to witness a comprehensive setup that covered outpatient consultations, maternal and children health services, mental health care, HIV/TB inpatient care, nutritional services for malnourished children alongside a fully functional laboratory.

Despite these achievements, the demand on the little resources available in the location was great; if any technical issues arose, the engineer was called from over 500km away to solve it. With uncertain flights to the area, this could at times mean a delay of up to 7 hours for small minor repairs. This ultimately put lives in jeopardy, as there was only one X-ray and ultrasound machine, which served all the surrounding camps.

We were also fortunate enough to visit one of the orphans being sponsored by Islamic Relief. Despite the fact that the money donated by people may not stretch too far and may seem to be of little significance to them, the reality was that the money made a huge impact on these individuals’ lives.

The family we visited was able to save up some of the funds to purchase two goats. Though of not much value now, these goats would be an opportunity for business growth for the widow and a way for her to sustain her family as they grew and either provided enough milk for the family and to sell, or as Qurbani meat which could be sold for a higher value during the correct season if well looked after.

It was encouraging to know that the staff was probing for such initiative to be developed and for the widow to begin to prepare for the day when her children would no longer receive orphan sponsorship funding.

To support Islamic Relief’s East Africa crisis appeal, donate here:

Nasrullah Tahir is a fundraiser with Islamic Relief’s Emerging Markets division. @nasrullahtahir