ICMC Resettlement Deployee
Three months in Dadaab
ICMC Resettlement Deployee
Dadaab is the name of a small, dusty town.
It is a one hour flight from Nairobi, Kenya on a UN Plane. Dadaab is situated approximately 80 kilometres from the Somali Border. Taking off in the UN plane from Wilson airport in Nairobi, I did not know what to expect upon arrival. The first thing I noticed was the scorching heat, arid surroundings, sparse vegetation and sheer isolation.
The UNHCR compound is a 5 minute drive from the airstrip, where upon arrival I was greeted by a friendly resettlement colleague and shown my room, situated next to a generator. I was informed that the generator would become part of my life and in fact if relocated in the compound, I would miss its loud mechanical noises that were rumoured to lull a resettlement consultant into a blissful sleep each night after working in the refugee camps.
There are 3 refugee camps in the Dadaab region, Hagadera, Ifo and Dagahaley, all situated in reasonable proximity to the UNHCR compound. The refugee camps began in 1991, with the first influx of Somali refugees, and were initially built to house 45,000 refugees. These days the refugee camps are expanding and growing on a daily basis. It is reported that as of June 2009, the 3 camps have a total of 278,059 refugees; 144,061 of these refugees are children 0-17 years.
Within this group of children many are minors in need of Best Interests Determination (BID) assessments. During my ICMC deployment I worked as a BID specialist and contributed to the UNHCR BID process.
This case load of children included: unaccompanied, separated and orphaned minors mainly from Somalia; with a minority from the Sudan, Rwanda, Uganda, Eritrea, Congo DR, Tanzania, and Dijbouti.
There were a large number of BID referrals, including the case of Mohammed.
Mohammed is an albino teenager, who arrived unaccompanied at the Hagadera refugee camp in January 2009, with a suitcase of new clothes, wearing shiny black leather shoes (unusual for this population).
Upon arrival, Mohammed was spontaneously taken into the care of a family who were being considered for resettlement. Mohammed reported that he had become an integral part of this family group, despite his recent arrival. When interviewed, he stated that his parents had sent him to Dadaab as they had heard that if resettled, he could have medical treatment for his skin condition.
At large, Mohammed remained a mystery. He reported that he had walked from his hometown across the Somali/Kenya border alone. Mohammed’s parents were unreachable by the telephone number Mohammed had in his pocket. It was decided Mohammed should not be recommended for resettlement with this family at this time. This was due to Protection concerns and the need to gather more information about the case.
Another BID referral was for a 5 year orphaned boy named Abdi, from the Ifo Refugee camp, living with an aunt and 2 uncles.
When Abdi was a baby, he was taken to the refugee camp by his widowed mother, who married another man a few weeks later. Following their marriage, Abdi’s’s mother and her new husband went back to Somalia, leaving Abdi with his grandmother and her children.
Approximately one year later, his mother was reported to be killed by a bomb blast in Kismayo, Somalia. Abdi continued to live with his grandmother until 2005, when she died of malaria. Abdi has no other relatives in the camp (except his aunt and uncles), who he has lived with since he arrived. Abdi lives with them in a typical refugee shelter, and his school bag is proudly on display on a twig masquerading as a hook in their refugee shelter.
The case of Abdi is very typical within the population of the 3 refugee camps in the Dadaab region. Many children are without their biological parents due to the fact that they are dead or missing, but live with another relative, family friend or a long term caregiver.
Besides work, Dadaab also had a number of social events and potential activities. There is a tennis court, a gym, a bar/restaurant, and yoga classes are run once a week. There were many visiting missions to Dadaab and one of interest was the visit of Mr Yujin Kitagawa, a famous Japanese singer and his media crew. Mr Kitagawa has a keen interest in refugees and humanitarian work, and visited Dadaab as he was making a documentary.
Mr Kitagawa has also written a song named “Wonderful World” which highlights pain and suffering in the world, yet states it’s still a wonderful world. While in Dadaab he presented audiovisual footage of his hit song “Wonderful World” to staff seated on the UNHCR tennis court, under the Dadaabian stars.
Shortly after the visit of Mr Kitagawa, I completed my deployment in Dadaab and returned to New Zealand, with a photocopy of his song in my suitcase. It is good to be reminded in the dusty, remote, and scorching heat of the overcrowded refugee camps in Dadaab, that it’s still a wonderful world.
By Karen Read
* Names of children in cases changed to protect identities.