By guest blogger Barbara Jackson, Humanitarian Director, CARE Emergency Group
We’ve just returned from a visit to Dadaab Refugee camp in northern Kenya, where I was accompanied by the CARE Canada President and CEO Kevin McCort, CARE Australia Head of Fundraising Andrew Buchannan and CARE USA Head of Foundations Liz McLaughlin.
In my more than 20 years of field experience with CARE, I have not seen such widespread levels of the effects of lack of food on so many people. Every single man, woman and child that we saw and met with of the more than 1, 500 people arriving daily do not have a spare ounce of flesh on their bodies. The adults are literally down to the bone; the children are incredibly listless, showing obvious signs of malnutrition and distress. Single mothers carry one or two children on their backs with others holding tightly onto their ragged wrap.
A mother sits with her child. Newly arrived refugees from Somalia live in cramped and makeshift homes on the outskirts of the Dadaab camps. Credit: Kate Holt
We met groups of over 40 people who had traveled together, leaving behind the elderly whom they knew would not be able to make the walk of 20 or more days to reach Dadaab. They do not know if they will ever see each other again.
Every single person with whom we talked – from those who had just arrived after a grueling journey to those who have been waiting in small hastily and sparsely constructed shelters, to those working as volunteers with CARE to provide food and some basic essentials – asked us to help them to tell the world of their plight. “Please share our message from Dadaab that we need help, that we cannot wait, that we have come this far and we still do not have the food and shelter that we need.”
There are more than 15,000 refugees who have arrived who are still not on the UN registration system and are not entitled to receive basic health services or a monthly ration of food. We met many of these people on the outskirts of one camp where CARE is now providing additional water and sanitation services.
When I asked to see their vouchers that were provided to them upon arrival to confirm when a date had been set by which they would be officially registered, I was surrounded by many people who dug into their carefully wrapped worn bags and pockets to show me vouchers with dates for as far away as mid September. One young woman asked, “I am hungry now and I have no shelter, how will I be able to wait this long for food for myself and my children? We thought we would be able to get help here but there is no help.”
Yet, these vouchers are like gold, and each one is carefully wrapped up and tucked back away for safe keeping. Without a voucher, a family does not get into the system and therefore it is as if they had not walked and risked their lives to reach Dadaab. They do not exist in the system.
Our CARE staff is working many long hours each and every day to help speed up food distribution, to get water and sanitation services out to those who are escaping from the drought plaguing the region, to increase educational services for the influx of many more young children. The commitment and dedication of our staff is incredibly impressive and they are doing this in the face of many challenges and difficult working and living conditions. There is no complaint voiced ever, yet their faces are lined and at the end of the day, almost too tired to talk. We must get them additional help and support and we need to get it to them now.
I am extremely heartened by the great willingness and generosity of the CARE members to offer expertise and personnel as well as hopefully, in the short term future, significant additional funding. Many of the people whom we met thanked us – for the support they are receiving now and for what they truly hope will be the urgent additional support that they need now.
On Monday, Kevin McCort and I will meet with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) High Commissioner in Geneva. We hope that we can help ensure that the refugee registration system in Dadaab will be rapidly accelerated for without that, there will be a continued huge gap and many women, children and men left without any hope.
I am now in Ethiopia, visiting communities where CARE Ethiopia works to see how we can help expand our programming here to ensure that people do not leave their homes in search of help, that they will be able to survive the coming very lean months.