Fleeing Somalia as famine declared

These Somali refugees at one of several refugee camps in Dadaab, Kenya, are among many families who faced starvation and left Somalia on foot. Photo by Laura Sheahen/CRS

By Laura Sheahen

They’ve walked for days or weeks, and their shoes show it. Dusty and worn, the sandals of a little boy dangle in his hand as he wails in the centre of a refugee camp.

Nearby, his mother rocks her sobbing baby. The family has made it to the camp, one of several in northeast Kenya that are receiving a flood of refugees from Somalia.

“We had livestock like sheep, goats, and cattle-over a dozen,” says a 22-year-old mother named Momina. “They all died of the drought.”

“We used to eat corn,” she continues. “But food was running out. So we left.”

Walking in a group of about 20 people, it took Momina 20 days to get from her home in Somalia to the Kenyan camp. They slept under the stars, ate whatever they had left, and managed to avoid attacks-by wild animals and by the bandits that plague the area.

Over 1,000 hungry, exhausted refugees a day are streaming into several refugee camps in a place called Dadaab, not far from the border with Somalia. Together, all the camps were meant to hold fewer than 100,000 people. But over 370,000 refugees now crowd them–and spill into nearby areas.

Catholic Relief Services (CRS is a Caritas member) staff are here too, working with a local partner to assess the most urgent needs. The CRS team includes experts in sanitation, shelter, and protecting children and women who are in dangerous situations.

“There’s a lot of need and everyone has a role to play,” says Elijah Gichora, a CRS staffer who returned to Dadaab having developed clean water programs here in the past. “CRS is working hard to help.”

Laura Sheahen is CRS’ regional information officer for Asia. She is reporting from Kenya.


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