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KENYA/ Francesco (AVSI): those 300,000 people you can’t forget about

Francesco Calcagno reports from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, where the numbers of arrivals continues to grow and the camps are overcrowded with people searching for a better life.

(photo ANSA) (photo ANSA)

Francesco Calcagno, AVSI worker, reports from the Dadaab refugee camp.

The 8 o’clock convoy is ready. We are all at the police station. The air conditioning does not work and the windows are lowered. There are too many off-road vehicles this morning. It is 8:05 and nobody moves. After a bit, we are hit by a cloud of dust and we realize that the convoy is finally leaving. 

This morning, 30 vehicles will go towards Ifo and Dagahaley, the two refugee camps which were created in 1991 after the crisis in Siad Barre’s government in Somalia and which, together with Hagadera, should hold a maximum of 90,000 people. In January 2011, the population of these camps was already almost 300,000 people. The numbers. So many tall, proud people who are difficult to forget. Until some time ago, if you were not at the police station, Tango One, in VHF jargon, by 7:55, you would miss the escort and have to wait until 9 to start your work. Now you can arrive at 8:10 and there are still vehicles lining up to go to the camps. Without the escort, no one can go. The numbers again. Once again, they help us take it easy in the morning.

Today we are going to visit the camp. We want to meet the new arrivals, the new people, the refugees. We want to get to know them better and to listen to what they have to tell us. We want to try to give them concrete answers, perhaps not immediate ones, but ones that will fulfill their expectations. We do not want them to feel like they are only numbers.

For four weeks now, the influx of refugees has been constantly growing. Yesterday, I studied the statistics. There are from 5,000 to 6,000 Somalis who escape from Somalia every week and look for humanitarian assistance here in Kenya. A stream of migrants, mostly women and children, who want to try to rebuild their lives in a new country, where they know they will receive help and assistance.

The center of registration of the Ifo camp is made up of three tents. There are hundreds of people lined up perfectly. I remember when I was in line for an ATM in Belgium. It was raining in Brussels and we all had jackets and umbrellas. Here in Dadaab, the line is under the scorching sun. Fortunately, it is the season of the small rains (though it has not rained a drop), so at least there is wind.

I walk and see my colleagues at the LWF, an international non-profit that is in charge of the welcoming. Suraya is talking, helped by an interpreter, with a family made up of a woman and five children. I am struck by the way that this woman listens with attention to my colleague, hanging on her every word. They give her a bit of wood and a bowl, and send her to another line. There they will give her food and some pots and she will be assigned a tent.