Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Escaping from Somalia's Famine into a Perilous Refuge

Somali refugees wait at a registration center at the Dagahaley refugee site within the sprawling Dadaab complex in Kenya on Aug. 2, 2011

We have been driving around the world's largest refugee complex, late for an appointment with an NGO, as we are lost amid seemingly endless rows of ramshackle huts built of sticks and discarded packaging from aid organizations. The driver is making me nervous as he steers recklessly through women in hijabs, children with bare feet and men with donkey carts, moving through the narrow roads of desert sand. The hired guard, a moonlighting soldier, seems at ease, chatting loudly on his mobile phone as he cradles his machine gun in the other hand.

Realizing that we are lost, we park near a dried-out tree on the edge of the Hagadera refugee camp, one of the three in the Dadaab complex in eastern Kenya, when a man runs toward me shouting, urgently asking for help. What happens next seems to be a metaphor for the crisis that has overtaken this portion of the country, now the safe haven for the tens of thousands of people fleeing the world's worst hunger crisis, a famine that has gripped war-torn Somalia, the result of the worst drought in the region in 60 years.

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