Valerie Simon, a retired attorney, Northern California resident and Kenya Red Cross Life Member volunteered for two weeks at Dadaab last year. There, she worked with the ICRC and the Kenya Red Cross to restore family links for Somalis who live in the world's largest refugee camp, near the Kenyan-Somali border.
Dispatch from Dadaab, Kenya, by Ms. Simon.
Imagine a boy’s quick grin when he hears his father’s voice on the line; a woman’s sigh when her husband says hello; sagging shoulders and a quick turning away when there is no answer, or the tears of an old man who can’t find his children. These are Somali refugees telephoning relatives from the Dadaab Refugee Complex in Kenya. The cell phone calls are a high-tech approach to traditional Red Cross Messages being used by the ICRC and Kenya Red Cross Society to restore family links at Dadaab. These are calls to say, “I made it alive.”
The refugees have phone numbers written on the palms of their hands, some squat to write phone numbers in the dirt, or unfold worn scraps of paper to find the crucial number of a relative left behind or someone they hope to locate. The news relayed is not always good because the 80 kilometer trek from the Somali border crossing at Liboi to Dadaab is a no- man’s-land where refugees are often robbed of what little they possess and abused. People die on the way, and some of these are children. Aid workers break the tension with laughter now and again but the sound is hard to take in the presence of this suffering.
Many of the Kenya Red Cross volunteers are refugees themselves. These young men and women have lived twenty years and more in the camp, their prospects for resettlement slim. In a camp housing over 450,000 refugees, estimates are that only 1.5 percent will ever be resettled. The volunteers work for incentive pay of 300 Kenya Schillings a day, or about $3.00 U.S. They don’t work for the money, but rather for something to relieve the boredom of life in a camp that was never intended to house people for a life time.
There is a notice board in the camp that lists the names of refugees scheduled for resettlement interviews. One young man who has lived in the camp for 20 years told me he has yet to see his name on that board.
The ICRC and the Kenya Red Cross at work in Dadaab: