The Guardian reported recently from the Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya, where over 400,000 people are fleeing drought and war in Somalia. The testimonies of some of the refugees provide a vivid account of the difficulties they have faced.
One of the refugees, Ali Maolim Hassan (46) comments how he had a small farm in Somalia, growing crops and keeping livestock. Whilst life was not easy, “there was enough rain and animals would feed well”. In addition humanitarian agencies ran clinics and provided other services. Change came when the al-Shabab group took power in the area. They would enforce the zakat (obligatory charitable donation) very strictly. “They would take your animals forcefully, not according to Islamic rules”, comments Hassan. Then came the drought which forced Hassan to sell his few remaining animals cheaply and travel to the refugee camps inside neighbouring Kenya.
16yr old Madahir Borow Mohamed, who was a cattle herder in the Middle Juba region of Somalia, comments that whilst al-Shabab took part of the crops, “they did not force children to join them”. He does not want to return to Somalia because of “the drought and because of al-Shabab”.
At the other end of the age scale, Halima Ahmed (65) describes how al-Shabab prevented people from fleeing the hunger, as this would deprive them of “tax” revenues. She comments “Women caught escaping were taken back to the village, but if men were leading the way, they would be beaten or even shot.” A measure of how severe the droughts are is that Halima says she has never known a drought this bad.
Young mother Suroro Mohamed (18) had never been to school and, like others, said that the drought had pushed them over the edge and forced them to become refugees. Regarding al-Shabab, she comments that “They came with very strict rules. . . If you have something, the Shabab can take it.” Even so, she adds that “If there are rains in Somalia, we will go back”.
Quran teacher and small-holder Maolim Adow Maolim (45) commented that, when al-Shabab took control of their area, “they just went around taking animals by force. If you resisted they could slaughter you, even if you were a Quran teacher”. As with the other refugees, the drought resulted in there being no food available for his animals. Food prices had risen dramatically and al-Shabab were not allowing in any aid. With two wives and nine children to support, the situation was becoming intolerable. He comments that “We made the decision to leave because of three problems: drought; a lack of food and water; and al-Shabab. But if relief had been allowed in, we would have stayed”.
|Somali school in Dadaab refugee camp|
Image Source : Wikipedia