Dadaab, Kenya: Somali Refugees With Nowhere to Go

The three refugee camps run by the UN's refugee agency in Dadaab—50 miles from Somalia—are already severely overcrowded. But more and more people arrive there every day, seeking security.

The three refugee camps run by the office of the United Nations High Commissoner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Dadaab, Kenya, 50 miles from Somalia, are full. But more and more people arrive here every day. An extension to one of the camps could provide a temporary solution to providing shelter for new arrivals who now must create shelters from nothing in the barren desert. But the extension lies half-built and empty due to a breakdown in negotiations between the Kenyan authorities and the UNHCR. So the new arrivals remain in the desert with nowhere to go.
Refugees from Somalia are living in flimsy shelters made of sticks, string, and plastic in the northeastern desert of Kenya.
Kenya 2011 © Nenna Arnold/MSF
This is Dadaab. The camps here were established 20 years ago to shelter up to 90,000 refugees fleeing Somalia’s civil war. Today more than 350,000 people live here, and the numbers continue to grow.
Kenya 2011 © Natasha Lewer/MSF
Fatima, left, is 60 years old. She arrived in Dadaab the night before this photo was taken, after a nine-day journey. There is no space available inside the camps where she could build a home, so she is staying with her daughter’s family, in a shelter in the desert. “I left Somalia because my husband was dead and my way of life was destroyed. I felt I had nothing more to lose,” she said.
Kenya 2011 © Natasha Lewer/MSF
The shelters provide some respite from the sun and constant dust. But newly-arrived refugees have to wait an average of 12 days for food, and over a month for essentials like blankets and cooking utensils.
Kenya 2011 © Nenna Arnold/MSF
In the camps, water is pumped from beneath the desert. But there is never enough to go around, and refugees have to queue for hours to fill their jerry cans at the tap.
Kenya 2011 © Nenna Arnold/MSF
Forty percent of the children have never had any vaccinations, which raises the risk of disease outbreaks.
Kenya 2011 © Nenna Arnold/MSF
MSF staff checks a baby for signs of malnutrition, common among children under five years old due to the drought in Somalia, the hardships of the refugees’ journeys, and the long wait for food once they arrive.
Kenya 2011 © Nenna Arnold/MSF
Staff measures a child’s arm to gauge whether he is malnourished. MSF recently opened a second ward in its hospital to cope with the large numbers of severely malnourished children with medical complications. Children who do not get proper nutrition often have compromised immune systems and are thus vulnerable to other, often dead.
Kenya 2011 © Nenna Arnold/MSF
More than 750 malnourished children are receiving outpatient treatment at the hospital. And 7,000 at-risk families line up every two weeks to receive extra food.
Kenya 2011 © Natasha Lewer/ MSF
Dadaab is full of children. The number of babies born in the MSF hospital here has doubled since last year. But, as people continue to crowd into the camps and the surrounding desert, the availability of services—such as water, sanitation, and education—is shrinking; the future for these children looks bleak.
Kenya 2011 © Nenna Arnold/MSF