This article has been written to mark the World Refugee Day on June 20th and join hands with the UNHCR campaign “One is too Many”. The purpose of the article is to remind us of the trials and tribulations faced by the people affected by disasters and their difficult but courageous fight for their right to live in dignity.
Mary is from Kakuma in the North-West of Kenya, which hosts refugees from Ethiopia, Uganda and Sudan. Farhaan is from Dadaab, which is in the North-West of the country and is home to a predominantly Somali refugee population of 350,000, making it one of the oldest and biggest refugee operation in the world.
We are grateful to Mary and Farhaan for sharing their thoughts and stories with us and salute their strength. Informed consent from both individuals has been taken. Specific details from these narratives have been censored to protect their safety and privacy.
One life - One story
“Before we die we should do something that they talk well of us”, said Mary when asked for permission to share her story. In fear for her life, Mary escaped from Sudan, and now resides in the Kakuma Refugee camps in north-western Kenya. Mary suffered several attempts on her life when she refused to be forced into becoming an inherited wife or marry someone not of her choice. Despite all these challenges, Mary has channelled her personal strife to become a leading member of her community dedicated to working on behalf of fellow refugees.
A proud mother and a courageous woman
When internally displaced in Sudan, Mary was elected as a chairperson of her camp. She explained that at that point in her life she only knew how to count up to 10 and had never been to school. Circumstances forced her to flee the camp in Sudan, but her journey into Kenya proved to be even more harrowing as she continued to be subjected to various forms of gender-based violence. Once she reached Kakuma refugee camp, she decided to begin attending school with her children and was determined to get an education. This was met with great criticism from the members of her community in the refugee camp but nonetheless she continued, building her shelter in the morning and attending school in the afternoons. At school Mary also started to learn Kiswahili and English, which has later helped to work with humanitarian organisations in the camp. Attempts were made to force her into a marriage and when she resisted, it resulted in head injuries and a broken leg along with constant harassment. As a single parent and female heading her household, she continues to fear for her safety and that of her children. “I don’t have relatives here and sometimes I have to pretend that I don’t live here”, she said, adding “I worry if I don’t see my children for two hours, maybe they have been abducted.”
In 2004 she decided to start a women support group for survivors who have suffered gender-based violence such as rape, forced marriage, wife inheritance, mutilation etc. She convenes these affected women and gets them together to form a platform to share and rebuild their lives. “You get knowledge in the support group, help the community and give information to them”. Providing this support is not without its risks and “it’s a heavy burden to bear”. She explains that the perpetrators harass her and threaten her when she reports cases. Reflecting on the challenges she faces she said “when women in Africa get positions, men don’t like it, they hit you. They call me all kinds of names because of the work I do and because I live as a single parent, they even harass and abuse my children, but I don’t care, God is the one who plans everything and I will continue”.
Mary has continued to fight bravely against the odds to represent her fellow refugees, at real personal risk. Today, Mary is also the chairlady of the water committee and is involved in resolving conflicts and reporting on gender issues. She is also an HIV awareness campaigner and a member of the school management committee.
Mary is an outstanding individual for the personal sacrifices she has made and her struggle to lead a safe and dignified life. She continues to live under the difficult circumstances faced by refugees worldwide, and her strength is a reminder of how much one individual can do for others, a true humanitarian.
One refugee without hope is one too many
Farhaan escaped from Somalia as a toddler with his mother, brother and sister. When he was a child, the family had to overcome various challenges, as his mother was a single parent heading the household without the traditional Somali support network of relatives.
Hanging on to hope
The three camps in Dadaab (Ifo, Hagadera and Daghaley) have existed since 1991 and now host a third generation of Somali refugees. For most of his life, Farhaan has been a “refugee” and said that “when you are called a refugee, it’s a label-you are nothing and no one”. This sense of despondency is echoed by many in Dadaab camps and for Farhaan, “when you are a refugee, you have no rights. Refugees are and will always be inferior.”
Despite the painful reality of being a refugee and spending most of his life in the camps, Farhaan has worked hard and is an active member of his community. Currently he works as an “incentive worker” for a humanitarian organisation in Dadaab. An “incentive worker” is a refugee remunerated with a nominal sum of money for work. This label sits uneasily with many, but in Kenya refugees are prohibited from seeking formal employment or require exceptional permissions, which are hard to get. Farhaan earns 55 dollars for a months’ work and tries to save most of it to go to college and university. For him education is critical for empowerment and success. However, he knows that his chances to get into college and university are limited, and it might remain an unfulfilled dream. Reflecting on this difficult situation, he said “I am a young man but I have no options, I have done well in my O levels and deserve to go to university, but I will continue to be a refugee and stay here. I have been one for 20 years.” Refugees in Dadaab are not permitted to move out of the camps and there is no access to a college or university in the area.
Farhaan’s comments highlight how a protracted crisis which has no end in sight erodes universal human rights and dims the hope of a better tomorrow. The camps in Dadaab have existed since 20 years. Today there are over 350,000 refugees in Dadaab, with approximately 2000 new arrivals escaping from Somalia each month, stretching the services of the humanitarian organisation beyond their capacity.
Farhaan continues to study and learn on his own, holding on to the hope that one day he will be able to attend college.
Like Mary and Farhaan we need to make a difference.
Here is what you can do:
Visit the HAP website to understand why and how HAP advocates for and acts to promote the rights and dignity of affected communities worldwide
Find out more about how HAP and other humanitarian agencies are trying to make a difference in Dadaab
Visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees’ campaign landing page and take action Advocate for upholding the rights and dignity of refugees and internally displaced people with your friends/ family, in your organisation and country
Watch the documentary “Our Say”, in which refugees in Dadaab speak about the their challenges
See pictures from Dadaab and Kakuma on HAP Flickr photostream
For more information or any comments or questions contact:
Maria Kiani, Senior Quality and Accountability Advisor, email@example.com
Gregory Gleed, Accountability Officer, firstname.lastname@example.org