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Somali Refugees Face Insecurity Inside Dadaab Refugee Camp

Alex Pena

The Dadaab refugee camp has been home to refugees fleeing conflict and famine in Somalia for more than 20 years. But a recent string of attacks in the area has left many feeling just as insecure as in the home they left. Our reporter visited the camp in Kenya.

Inside Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp, 20-year-old Basharah speaks of violence in Somalia. She fled five months ago to create a better home for her child. Now, she worries Dadaab is not the change she was looking for.

“Because of security now, there is no difference between here and Somalia," she said.

The camp is not just an increasingly insecure place for refugees to live. Just 90 kilometers from the Somalia border, militants and criminals have also made Dadaab home.

Camp resident Ablah Ibrahim says this makes a bad situation worse.

“There are people who come with guns at night," she said. "They come and steal our food."

Both Basharah and Ablah live in a section of the camp where two Spanish aid workers were kidnapped in October of last year. They worked for Doctors Without Borders and they are still missing.

Vittorio Opizzi is a field coordinator for the organization and has been working under the new security conditions for the past five months.

“The security situation poses us in a dilemma, [eh] of course having the necessity to adapt our way of working without exposing our team to unnecessary risk, but on the other side to keep our services going," said Opizzi.

They have continued to work in the hospital and other parts of the camp. But, in this section, they have left and so have some of the refugees - including Amina Abdi Ali.

“Some people have left the insecurity here. They’ve gone back to Somalia," she said.

The camp leader, Ali Noor Hassan, has also become frustrated with the lack of police protection in his section.

“This camp is large, and we only have one police post here, and it’s very far from here," he said. "We just wish for them to bring law and order.”

Despite the threats Kenya faces from elements inside Dadaab, Kenya’s police spokesperson, Erick Kiraithe, says police have already exhausted their resources on the camp.  It is the most policed region in rural Kenya.

“The constitution of police in those camps is too high," said Kiraithe. "For us, abnormally high. But because of the complexity,  the kind of people who end up in the camps,  then certainly it requires much closer police surveillance.”

There are currently 300 police officers operating in the camp of nearly half-a-million refugees. They’re fighting both criminals and elements of the terrorist group al-Shabab who have infiltrated the camp.

And, for the refugees living here, unless they return home to Somalia, they will continue to face these insecurities in the world’s largest refugee camp.

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