Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lawless Somalia keeps Dadaab full


Medeshi May 10, 2009

Lawless Somalia keeps Dadaab full
Mohammed Noor Hajir is waiting to hear whether he will be among the lucky few at the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, who will be resettled in the United States.
(Mohammed Noor Haji and his family at the camp. Picture: Courtesy of ECHO )
It has been a long wait. He fled his native Somalia in 1991 following the outbreak of clan fighting in Gedo region and made it to Dadaab with his wife and daughter. He has been there ever since living a life in limbo, not knowing where he will be going next.
“I didn’t expect to be here so long. I’m very disappointed with my country. There is little hope of returning, so my only option is to be resettled in a third country like the US or Canada,” he said.
Mohammed Noor Hajir now has seven children, six of whom were born at the Dadaab refugee camp. He lives in a small compound in a mud house that he built.
It is perhaps not a typical image of a refugee camp, but then Dadaab is an untypical camp. Set in the dusty scrub plains on the highway that leads to the Somali border, it is according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) unofficially the largest refugee camp in the world.
Although it was designed for 90,000 refugees, it now holds around three times that number and is expanding by up to 500 people every day as the clan fighting in Somalia intensifies.
Alongside the established plots where people like Mohammed Noor Hajir live, are rows of tents for the newly arrived. This is where 20 year old Deko Abdi Osman may be accommodated once she completes the camp registration procedures.
She has just arrived at Dadaab after fleeing from Mogadishu, the Somali capital.
“There was fighting all around my family home,” she said. “When we heard heavy guns firing we decided it was time to leave Mogadishu as it was just too dangerous.” In the confusion surrounding the family’s hasty departure, she got separated from her parents and siblings and decided to head for the Kenyan border alone.
After a week of walking and catching lifts on vehicles she arrived in Dadaab.
“I’m happy to be somewhere safe, but I do not intend to stay long here. I need to find my family.”
The reality is that Deko will, without doubt, stay longer in Dadaab than she intends as, for the time being at least, there is nowhere else for her to go.
The escalation in violence between rival clans means repatriation to Somalia is not an option. And although the camp will soon be 20 years old, the long-term integration of Somalis into the local population is also not considered a possibility.
The resettlement of the 270,000 Somali refugees in third countries is the most viable alternative to repatriation and local integration. Although it is fraught with difficulties, it remains the dream of most of the refugees.
UNHCR, which runs the camp, is hoping to resettle around 8,600 refugees in 2009. Even it if resettles that many and reaches the 2010 target of 20,000 people, the arrival of new refugees means that the population at Dadaab is unlikely to decline.
The pressure of providing services for 270,000 people in a camp designed for 90,000 is becoming a problem. Water delivery is a key issue. Although, there is a plentiful supply in the Dadaab area, it is becoming increasingly difficult to supply it to all the refugees.
The infrastructure of the ageing water network is nearing the end of its useful life and the increase in refugees is putting further pressure on the system.
If there is a partial breakdown of the water system, Dadaab could face a humanitarian catastrophe as it could lead to the outbreak of cholera and other diseases,” said Yves Horent, the head of the Kenya operations for the European Commission Humanitarian Aid department.
“In addition to providing food aid in the camp, we have provided funding of three million euros ($4 million) to rehabilitate the network and provide sanitation services. We’re confident that by the end of the year all refugees will have access to enough water for their daily lives,” he added.
As one of the longest residing refugees in the camp, Mohammed Noor Hajir is likely to be among the next to be resettled in the US. After 18 years, he is impatient to move on, but is prepared to wait his turn. Despite the hardships of living in Dadaab, he still considers himself fortunate.
“I consider myself to be one of the luckiest Somalis. I am alive and here with my family. There are many who are not so fortunate.”
Daniel Dickinson is the regional information officer with ECHO

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