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World Refugee Day: Life after Somalia

A combination of ongoing conflict, coupled with the devastating effect of the drought, has meant that thousands of people are fleeing Somalia for the Kenyan town of Dadaab.

By the time they’ve reached the refugee camps they are exhausted, weak and hungry. Most will have made the arduous journey on foot, through boiling hot sand and harsh shrub.

Bleeding and sand-covered, they’ve discarded most of their belongings on the way – too heavy to carry in the hot sun. The trek is a desperate measure. Over 350,000 people now live here (making it the fourth largest ‘city’ in Kenya) crammed into camps built for only 90,000.

War children

Many of the smaller children in the camps have grown up here, and few will have known peace in their lives. As I speak to more and more children, the difference between new arrivals from Somalia and those who have been here a while becomes more marked.

At first I put the difference down to personality. One child is silent, suspicious, while another is open and talkative. But then I realise. The children and families fresh from Somalia have been struggling to survive in a brutal, war-torn world.

Many of the children seem wild, their language harsh and defensive. Even after six months in Dadaab you can see the difference. Children are more relaxed, happy to talk, interested in the world around them.


But Dadaab is not an oasis. Children here are at high risk of assault and exploitation, and many children arrive alone. 16 year old Hassain left his home in Somalia just over a week ago.

His family told him to leave because the drought had destroyed their farmland, and there was not enough food to survive. Hassain strapped his two year old sister Sareye to his back and climbed on a crowded minibus.

He tells me that his father sold everything he had left to pay for the ticket for Hassain and Sareye to get to Somalia on the vehicle: “I was very scared the whole way here. I was scared for myself and for Sareye”. It took six days to cross the border, and Hassain carried his sister the whole way.

Hellish journey

Sareye got sick on the journey, and was diagnosed with malaria and pneumonia when she arrived – both are easily preventable illnesses, but not in Somalia. Pneumonia causes severe coughing, pain and fever. Malaria often manifests in diarrhoea and feverish attacks.

The journey must have been hell for both Hassain and Sareye. When they arrived they were referred to Save the Children – who helped to reunify them with their Aunt, already living in the camps.

Save the Children work on both sides of the border – Dadaab and within Somalia. As  one of the few aid agencies still operating in the war-torn country, Save the Children is providing crucial help with food, water, livelihoods and education – and is scaling up in response to the drought.

Need is clear

It’s a difficult, dangerous context to work in. But the work is urgent – and the humanitarian need is clear.

As it is in Dadaab camps. The team here are providing counselling, child protection, family tracing and material support, life skills training and participatory activities which help children adjust to life outside of Somalia.

Hassain is still very traumatised, tense and ready to flee. He perches on the edge of his seat, constantly scanning the horizon for threats. Sareye sleeps peacefully, too young to understand.

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