Fortunes differ among Somalia’s famine refugees

Even among refugees fleeing famine-stricken Somalia there are the “haves” and “have-nots” — those who cross the border in a battle for survival and those who can pay for a car.

“I paid $150 to be brought here from Mogadishu,” said Abshira Abdullahi, speaking in the courtyard of a guesthouse after emerging from a crowded mini-van.

For most of the destitute families trekking through rebel-controlled southern Somalia, their livelihoods destroyed by the triple shock of conflict, the worst drought in decades and a lack of food aid, that is a princely sum beyond dreams.

Millions of Somalians are on the brink of starvation. We take a look at some of the worst-hit areas and the aid camps that are struggling to deal with the worst humanitarian crisis in the world.

Abdullahi left her five children in the care of her younger brother, saying life had become unbearable in Mogadishu’s Madina district, near the capital’s old quarter where once-majestic colonial facades now tumble into the turquoise ocean.

Two decades of civil war in the anarchic Horn of Africa country have reduced much of the city to rubble.

An insurgency started in 2007 still rages on, with almost daily tit-for-tat artillery fire and gun battles between al-Qaeda-linked Islamist militants and Somali forces.

“Life in Mogadishu was like being under house arrest,” said Abdullahi, a 30-year-old divorcee.

The United Nations has declared famine in two regions of Somalia and says 3.7-million people in the country are going hungry due to drought.

In a report for countries sending aid, the U.N.’s umbrella humanitarian agency OCHA said the crisis was expected to continue to worsen through 2011, with the whole of the south slipping into famine.

Insurgency like house arrest
The sandy, windswept town of Liboi, a small trading centre patrolled by marabou storks less than 20km from the border, was Abdullahi’s final stopping point en route to the overflowing Dadaab refugee camp 80km deeper inside Kenya.

In early 2007, Kenya officially closed its frontier with Somalia, marked outside Liboi by a single concrete pillar and two makeshift military road-blocks, in an effort to block the movement of Somali Islamist rebels.

The closure forced the shutdown of a transit centre in Liboi where the United Nations refugee agency screened, registered and handed out food rations to incoming asylum seekers before transporting them to Dadaab.

Several lodges have sprung up in the dusty alleyways behind the main drag, owned by Liboi’s bigwigs who see money to be made from the wealthier refugees before their final push to Dadaab.

Business has boomed with the recent influx of refugees.

“We run this as a private lodge,” said a local administrator in the courtyard of another guesthouse, where as many as 10 family members were squeezed into a single room with three beds.

A young boy collecting cash said the charge was 100 Kenyan shillings ($1.10) per person, though for a couple with five children this was discounted to 400 shillings.

Over a mug of sweet milky tea, some residents muttered that it was not surprising that some officials were reluctant to throw their weight behind re-opening the transit centre given that it would likely kill the lodges’ business.

Destination Australia
Hassan Mahmoud Mohamed would have welcomed a UN reception centre.

His family sat exhausted in the grounds of Liboi’s clinic, the children’s feet deeply cracked after dragging their scrawny limbs for 15 days from southern Somalia’s Lower Shabelle region, the famine’s epicentre.

“We walked up to 12 hours a day without anything to drink, no water, no milk, only what people we passed gave us,” the father-of-seven told Reuters.

“The children don’t understand what is going on. At least we’re told here we’ll get assistance,” he said

But he was wrong. Apart from water from the town’s borehole, there would be no help until they reach at Dadaab, a sprawling tent and shack city of more than 400 000 people and the world’s largest refugee camp.

“They’re needy and vulnerable people but what more can we give them? There’s also a drought here. It would be too much of a burden,” said local resident Adow Noor Burl.

Moments later, a gang of loud-mouthed youths kicked Mohamed and his family out of the clinic, demanding they take their illnesses elsewhere.

Visiting aid workers watched as Mohamed and his kids trudged wearily down the road to Dadaab.

While Mohamed asked for nothing more than food, water and safety for his family, Abdullahi, a bus ticket to Dadaab in hand, had grander expectations.

“Perhaps I will be resettled to Australia where I have family,” she said. — Reuters

Richard Lough
Richard Lough works from Paris, France. I'm a Reuters journalist, now in Paris after a decade in East Africa and Argentina. Views are my own Richard Lough has over 3381 followers on Twitter.

‘There were no marks on his neck’, Neil Aggett inquest...

The trade unionist’s partner at the time he was detained at John Vorster Square says she now believes his death was not a suicide

The death of Enoch Mpianzi at Parktown Boys is a...

Ignore the language used in brochures and on open days and be vigilant about the details

Study unpacks the ‘hidden racism’ at Stellenbosch

Students say they feel unseen and unheard at the university because of their skin colour

Ramaphosa enters the fray in fight between Gordhan and Mkhwebane

The president said his court case is “unfortunate” and a “measure of last resort”

Press Releases

MTN unveils TikTok bundles

Customised MTN TikTok data bundles are available to all prepaid customers on *136*2#.

Marketers need to reinvent themselves

Marketing is an exciting discipline, offering the perfect fit for individuals who are equally interested in business, human dynamics and strategic thinking. But the...

Upskill yourself to land your dream job in 2020

If you received admission to an IIE Higher Certificate qualification, once you have graduated, you can articulate to an IIE Diploma and then IIE Bachelor's degree at IIE Rosebank College.

South Africans unsure of what to expect in 2020

Almost half (49%) of South Africans, 15 years and older, agree or strongly agree that they view 2020 with optimism.

KZN teacher educators jet off to Columbia University

A group of academics were selected as participants of the programme focused on PhD completion, mobility, supervision capacity development and the generation of high-impact research.

New-style star accretion bursts dazzle astronomers

Associate Professor James O Chibueze and Dr SP van den Heever are part of an international team of astronomers studying the G358-MM1 high-mass protostar.

2020 risk outlook: Use GRC to build resilience

GRC activities can be used profitably to develop an integrated risk picture and response, says ContinuitySA.

MTN voted best mobile network

An independent report found MTN to be the best mobile network in SA in the fourth quarter of 2019.