By Sadia Kidwai
Many of Dadaab’s residents are entirely dependent on the food rations they receive from NGOs. But funding for food aid has reduced dramatically
Last month I visited Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya – one of the world’s largest refugee camps and home to tens of thousands of Somalis. It is there in the Ifo sub-camp that Islamic Relief is responsible for providing primary health care and education for 70,000 people.
Conditions in Dadaab have become so bad that many residents want to leave but the ongoing conflict and drought in Somalia makes it impossible for them to return. They are, as one Somali refugee told me, “caught between the devil and the deep blue sea”.
The restrictions on movement in and out of the camp mean that many of Dadaab’s residents are entirely dependent on the food rations they receive from international agencies and NGOs. But funding for food aid has reduced dramatically.
Staff at the health centre told me that over a third of deaths of children under the age of five in Ifo camp are caused by acute malnutrition. There is not enough funding for specialist health staff, such as gynaecologists, cardiologists and paediatricians.
And we are unable to afford all the drugs we need. If there is a disaster or an epidemic we will struggle to cope.
At the Ifo hospital, managed by Islamic Relief, patients with critical issues often need specialist care. But the bureaucratic delays and obstacles they face in obtaining the necessary travel permits to nearby hospitals mean many patients are at risk of dying before they can get the help they need. Health staff have reported people dying because of complications relating to hypertension, diabetes, brain and heart problems and cancer.
Islamic Relief pays the salaries of 516 teachers (only 40 of whom are fully qualified) for 40,000 pupils but we cannot afford enough furniture and textbooks. One pupil told me that they only had three textbooks in his class of more than 20 children.
Parents and teachers told me that many children are either too malnourished to study or are leaving school to work and support their families.
The Kenyan government tried to close the camp down in November last year but this was blocked by the High Court. For many of the people I spoke to, uncertainty around the closure of the camp was a major source of stress for them.
The seemingly obvious choice for many refugees would be to return to Somalia, and many have begun to do so over the past two years. However, while there have been some positive political developments in Somalia, many of the refugees I spoke to expressed their concerns about the lack of stability and facilities in Somalia.
Moreover, Somalia is now in the midst of its worst drought in decades – there are places where people are literally starving to death, and some are even returning to Dadaab in desperation.
For those who cannot go back to Somalia and who can no longer bear life in a refugee camp – and see little hope of integrating into normal life in Kenya – their only hope is to be resettled elsewhere.
But U.S. President Donald Trump’s travel ban barring citizens of seven Muslim-majority countries, including Somalia, has left many in limbo. When Trump came into power, there were approximately 6,000 refugees (mainly Somali) who were about to be repatriated to the United States.
I felt a huge responsibility after I left Dadaab especially when so many of the people I spoke to said they were tired of people coming and asking them questions and nothing ever changing.
I hope that Somalia will have a safer and more prosperous future after the progress made in discussions between the Somali authorities and the international community yesterday at the London Somalia Conference. And I hope that international donors will respond to the UN Secretary General’s call at the conference for an extra £700m to help tackle the severe drought.
Furthermore, I hope that East African heads of state and the international community will work together to provide concrete and sustainable solutions for Somali refugees, as agreed at the IGAD Heads of State Special Summit on Durable Solutions for Somali Refugees in March, which was reiterated at the conference yesterday.
And I hope that western nations like Britain and the United States will start to take more responsibility for the Somali refugees caught in limbo and the refugee crisis in general.
No-one deserves to be “caught between the devil and the deep blue sea”.