The Ifo, Hagadera and Dagahaley Somali refugee camps in Dadaab, north-eastern Kenya, are overflowing with refugees from drought and conflict in neighbouring Somalia. Here, UNICEF Kenya’s Edita Nsubuga recounts the story of one adolescent refugee caught in the crisis that has afflicted the entire region.
By Edita Nsubuga
DADAAB, Kenya, 12 July 2011 – It was at Block N-Zero in Ifo camp that I first saw her. This is the camp where some of the new arrivals first settle. Her young face was hidden by the headdress that she wore.
At first, I thought it was just the layers of clothes that she was wearing. But when she stepped out of the tent and straightened up, I saw that she was visibly pregnant, seven months to be exact. She is going to have her first baby in this camp and she is 14 years old.
Trek from Somalia
Amina (not her real name) had arrived 10 days earlier with her mother-in-law, uncle and young cousins. It took them 26 days to walk from their home region in southern Somalia. Fortunately, they were not attacked by bandits, but they had to look out for hyenas and lions.
Along the way, Amina told me, they relied on the kindness of strangers. When they ran out of goats to eat, they resorted to begging. Even when people did not have much to spare, they would part with a little rice and a little water. They would try not to send Amina and her relatives away empty-handed.
Amina has never been to school. Her uncle said that her parents never thought of sending her to school because they didn’t believe it was important for her. Instead, they arranged for her to be married at age 12. Her husband is somewhere in Kismayu, Somalia, looking desperately for employment. It is likely that he is burning trees for charcoal. In these hard times, jobs are so hard to find.
Meeting basic needs
Despite her youth, there is a calmness and strength about Amina, a look of expectation that I have seen in countless faces here. I have steeled myself not to make eye contact with Amina or anyone that I meet in the camp. Their needs are so many, but all they are asking for is basic services for their families: safe water, sanitation, access to health care and a decent roof over their heads.
This young girl believes that once her family is registered and they finally receive one of the most prized possessions in the camp for new arrivals – a food ration card – all will be well. Then, she hopes, they will begin to forge a new life for themselves.
For now, Amina continues to wait at Block N-Zero in this harsh, bleak, thorny, dusty place. She waits to start life over again.