Culture shock for new refugees

Gretchen Wilson May 11, 2007

Culture shock for new refugees

Gretchen Wilson May 11, 2007

PHOTO GALLERY: Life at Hagadera refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya


BOB MOON: Whatever troubles life might deal you today, consider what it’s like just trying to make it from one day to the next in the African nation of Somalia. Amid the ongoing bloodshed between various warring factions, kidnappings and killings have made humanitarian efforts next to impossible. Just yesterday, two aid workers, one from Britain, the other from Kenya, were kidnapped at gunpoint and remain missing. The long violence has sent more than 30,000 people fleeing to refugee camps in Kenya. And suddenly, the surge in population there is creating fierce competition for already scarce resources, from firewood to medical care. As Gretchen Wilson reports from the refugee camps, the new arrivals find themselves way at the back of the line.

GRETCHEN WILSON: The busiest new borough of the Hagadera refugee camp is an open field of sand. Dwellings here look like birds’ nests, made out of donated blankets and branches the width of my thumb.

Hassan Ibrahim Yusuf brought his wife and baby daughter here in October.

HASSAN IBRAHIM YUSUF [translator]: We have a lot of challenges as newcomers. For example, this shelter is where we sleep at night when it’s cold, and it’s our only protection during the day, when it gets very hot and windy.

In Somalia, Yusuf worked as a farmer, but he says the economy of the camps is run by refugees who came here in the early 1990s.

Kenya doesn’t let refugees leave the camps to work, so over the last 15 years, many have learned to barter inside the camps for goods like soap and tea.

Newcomers without connections like Yusuf often lose out. And survival in the Hagadera camp, is about scrambling for the most basic of resources – whether it’s a cooking pot or school supplies.

Eighteen-year-old Marian Abdul Hussein arrived here four months ago. Hussein says newcomers here battle even to get clean water.

MARIAN ABDUL HUSSEIN: As we are new refugees, we don’t know anybody from this country, and these people are not going to help us, to give us water. When we said ‘please, help us, we don’t have water,’ they refuse.

At one of these water taps, 22-year-old Habiba Abdi Shaieh fills a plastic jug. Unlike Hussein, she’s grown up, married and had children here.

HABIBA ABDI SHAIEH [translator]: Every day it’s not like this, with a lot of water. Sometimes there are tensions between us and the newcomers, because they come and the water pressure is too low. So to share is a problem.

Aid groups say they’re doing their best to minimize tensions as every population competes for the same meager resources.

Somali refugees stopped pouring in to the camps when Kenya closed its border in January, but when it opens again, there’ll likely be another 50,000 seeking asylum.

From the Hagadera refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya, I’m Gretchen Wilson for Marketplace.

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