Young Somali students living in Kenya’s Dadaab camp, the world’s largest refugee camp, sent letters of encouragement to Syrian refugee children who also had to flee their homeland. They offered messages of solidarity, encouragement and advice. In their letters, they emphasized the importance of studying and gaining an education while in the camps. "Our beloved brothers and sisters, go and work hard in school, be the stars and the new presidents of Syria,“ Dahir Mohamed wrote in an inspirational letter.

See more photos and letters via BBC News


500,000 Refugees, Countless Stories: Welcome to Dadaab

When the idea for a documentary project about the world’s largest refugee camp came about, in early 2011, Dadaab, Kenya was a place that few had heard of. A haven for those fleeing armed conflict, disaster, or persecution, on the border with Somalia, Dadaab was already home to the world’s largest refugee camp – a dubious honor it held by a wide margin. And yet to most, Dadaab simply drew a blank.

All that changed in early 2011, when the looming famine in the Horn of Africa sent refugees flooding into the camp. Soon after, as famine was formally declared in Somalia, international journalists followed. For the first time in years, Dadaab was suddenly in the news: an international symbol for a humanitarian crisis. There were 500,000 refugees in a camp that was built for 90,000.

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Ben Rawlence has written a new book about the world’s largest refugee camp – the Dadaab complex in Northern Kenya. It opened in 1991 as a temporary shelter for Somalis fleeing civil war. It’s now home to nearly a half million people, testament to the reluctance of the world’s governments to offer safe harbor to those fleeing war and economic collapse. Rawlence says when tens of thousands of Somalis poured into Dadaab during a 2011 drought, they found “a groaning, filthy, disease-riddled slum heaving with traumatized people with not enough to eat.” Rawlence first went to Dadaab as a researcher for Human Rights Watch in Africa. He’s made seven extended visits, getting to know residents struggling with the limbo of refugee status – unable to return to homes they left, but prevented from making new lives in a host country. Rawlence’s book explores the camp through detailed portraits of nine refugees. Rawlence is the author of an earlier book, Radio Congo, and has written for several publications including the Guardian and the London Review of Books. He spoke to Fresh Air contributor Dave Davies about his new book, City of Thorns: Nine Lives in the World’s Largest Refugee Camp.

Author Profiles The ‘Traumatized People’ Living In The World’s Largest Refugee Camp

Responding To Drought In The Horn of Africa

Drought currently affecting the Horn of Africa is exacerbating already precarious conditions for many people in eastern Africa. MSF teams are seeing a dramatic effect on the Somali population—both those in Somalia and the many who have fled to overcrowded camps in Dadaab, Kenya, and parts of Ethiopia. The numbers of malnourished children in MSF feeding programs in these areas are rising. This, along with the conflict in Somalia, limited access to healthcare, high food prices, and inadequate aid amounts to a widespread humanitarian crisis.

Photo: A malnourished child rests inside MSF’s inpatient therapeutic feeding center in Dadaab. (Kenya 2011 © Yahya Dahiye/MSF)


Here are some of my first photos out of the refugee camp in Dadaab.  This was at an extension of Ifo camp, which was just built less than 2 weeks ago, and is already home to around 10,000 refugees from Somalia.  In the second photo, the boy is carrying wooden planks inscribed with classroom lessons, which are used in the school.

A Day in Dadaab: Four Somali Refugees Tell Their Story

In 2010, we did this feature on life in Dadaab, which was already one of the world’s most congested refugee camps. A musician, a poet, a mother, and a woman with a song testify to not only the hardships of life in a refugee camp, but also portray an image of the cruel realities of life in Somalia.

Find udpated information on the situation in Dadaab here.

The devastating drought and famine across the Horn of Africa has sent millions of starving people into camps in Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia. The international response has been hindered by the chaos in Somalia, where foreign aid agencies have been denied access to Shabab-controlled regions.

Daniel Howden, Africa Correspondent ..

_The severity of the drought in the Shabab areas has sent tens of thousands of people into war-torn Mogadishu, up to 2,000 people a day into camps across the border in Ethiopia and 1,500 people a day into the Dadaab complex of camps in northern Kenya. (read full).
Somalia: MSF Stepping Up Malnutrition Intervention As Horn of Africa Food Crisis Worsens

The announcement by Al Shabaab, one of the main armed factions in Somalia, that foreign relief organizations would be welcomed in territories under their control has raised hope that it will be possible to mount a desperately-needed scale-up of assistance inside the country.

“MSF has been working continuously in Somalia for over two decades running large-scale medical programs,” says Joe Belliveau, MSF operational manager. “We have managed to maintain our programs under Al Shabaab, but restrictions on supplies and international support staff have prevented us from scaling up further. We hope that the Al Shabaab statement leads to a lifting of these restrictions.”

Read more.

Hungr in the News

At Thanksgiving, a Different Kind of Food Problem –The Washington Post

While Americans gather to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, all signs point to a food crisis in West Africa that could eclipse the current epidemic impacting the Horn of Africa. Food for the Hungry is partnering with WFP and the German Society for International Cooperation for the distribution of fuel-efficient stoves to 6,200 Somali families in Kenya’s Dadaab refugee camp.

Many Somali Famine Victims Afraid to Return Home –AP

Four months after the U.N. declared famine in much of Somalia, some regions are beginning a slow recovery from a disaster that has killed tens of thousands of people. Challiss McDonough, a WFP spokeswoman, said the displaced Somalis “have to feel physically secure and have a livelihood that will allow them to make ends meet” in their home regions.

Food Security Concern as Farmers Switch from Maize to Coffee –IRIN

The switch by many farmers in Kenya’s Rift Valley province from staple cereals to more profitable coffee is likely to increase the country’s dependence on grain imports and possibly affect food security, agricultural experts have warned. Kenya will have to import 2.3 million tonnes of cereal during the 2011-2012 marketing year to meet demand, a year-on-year increase of 37%, according to FAO.

A Thousand A Day
  • Aid is a controversial topic. Food and money sent by donor countries fuel rebel armies and fund corrupt institutions; they become the bone over which, the pack of dogs fight. But what is the alternative when people starve and suffer? How can we neglect fellow humans in crisis? After Rwanda and Ethiopia, have we learnt nothing? While the debate rages on, we visit a microcosm of the situation. A stage on which we meet people from every view and persuasion: the aid worker, the refugee, the journalist, the academic, the UN consultant; a stage that is ever expanding, as people arrive at the rate of one thousand a day.
  • Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world. It is situated in the North Eastern Province of Kenya and it is believed that it will home 450,000 people by the end of 2011. The long lasting instability in the area, specifically Somalia, was the initial factor in the camp’s existence, but this has been exacerbated by the recent famine. As the world’s media pore over ‘Drought in the Horn of Africa’, it is being forgotten that Dadaab pre-existed this disaster. The camp is such a long lasting institution in the area that for many children who were born and raised there, it is not a camp but a home. While more money and more refugees flood into the camp, fuelled by the recent appeals, it seems that the camp is being used as a solution instead of a temporary arrangement. It has become the third largest settlement in Kenya after Nairobi and Mombasa, much to the consternation of many Kenyans. Is this truly sustainable and what are the alternatives? Will these Somalis ever be able to go home? By looking at the impact of aid on the ground, which has been the life force of Dadaab, and equally looking at the impact in the long run, it is possible to shed more light on a complex and difficult situation. In this climate of global financial crisis, people have an even greater interest in where their money goes and the good that it does. There is an inherent conflict between wanting to do good but only ultimately supplying short-term solutions, and the ‘tough love’ position that reducing aid seems to imply. By talking to people whose lives are directly involved and also talking to academics and experts in the field, we can start to formulate a humane solution for this very human problem.

Fatuma Badel fled Buale, Somalia with 8 children after leaving her sick husband. “he became sick and I couldn’t carry him. I don’t know if he is alive or dead. This one, my youngest was like a dead person when i arrived. Now I thank God I can hear him cry again.” She has been 3 days in the MSF hospital with her baby Mohamud who arrived severely malnourished. At nine months old he weighs 4.3 KG. (Photo: Kenya 2011 © Brendan Bannon)


This is what it’s like riding between the refugee camps in Dadaab, which requires armed escorts that lead and trail each convoy to protect us from bandits (or “shifters,” as my Aussie colleague likes to call them).  We do this about 4 times a day, and our driver, Sala, is pretty badass.  He usually goes about 50 mph, but the other day he was really channeling his inner Nic Cage, and got us up above 60.  These are pretty fast speeds when traveling on uneven sand.

This food, destined for Somali refugees in the sprawling tent city of Dadaab, Kenya, was purchased by local farmers in Kenya through a programme called “Purchase for Progress.”

The programme helps farmers grow more food and meet quality standards so that WFP can buy it from them and use it feed hungry people nearby.

Purchase for Progress received a vote of confidence from none other than Bill Gates, who underscored the importance of empowering famers at a recent food security event in Washington D.C.

You can find out more about this innovative new project at our Purchase for Progress blog.

Photo by Lydia Wamala


Somali Refugees in Dadaab Struggle On

Though the international spotlight has moved on, hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees in the Dadaab camps in northwestern Kenya, the largest refugee camps in the world, continue to struggle amid harsh conditions and pervasive malnutrition, particularly among children. Aid has been too slow in coming, however, and longer-term solutions are nowhere to be found.
Somalian Drought: Worst Humanitarian Disaster

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Tens of thousands are flocking to the U.N. refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya to escape the Somalian drought. There are already 380,000 refugees living there now. The World Food Program estimates that there are still 10 million people in need of aid.

The mortality rates have exceeded emergency ceilings and 50% of people arriving are malnourished.

The camps are full and do not have the resources to provide this huge influx of refugees with food, shelter and medical treatment.