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No Relief In Sight For Somali Refugees In Kenya

Women and children at the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya line up Aug. 24 to receive iftar — a meal of rice, meat and vegetables to break the Ramadan fast. Somalis are fleeing across the border to Kenya to escape extreme poverty associated with the country's severe drought, famine and an Islamist insurgency. (NPR)

Even in the relentless heat and dust of the sprawling Dadaab refugee settlement in northern Kenya, camp residents observe the dawn-to-dusk Ramadan fast.

Hawa Abdi is among them. She is from southern Somalia, a part of the country where famine has been declared by the United Nations. She says she has been a refugee at Dadaab for the past six months and is receiving assistance — but still would like more food and other aid.

In preparation for the iftar, the meal that breaks the daily fast, aid workers hand out rice, meat and vegetables several hours before sundown.

New Pledge Drive

The difficult conditions remain, and the African Union is to hold a pledging conference Thursday to raise money and awareness of the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, especially in war-weakened Somalia.

The U.N. is seeking an additional $1.5 billion for the Horn of Africa. Meanwhile, African governments have been sharply criticized for not doing enough to help people suffering in Somalia, Kenya, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Djibouti.

More than 12 million people in the region need humanitarian assistance, nearly 3.5 million in Somalia alone. Refugees from that country continue to stream across the border into Kenya, seeking security, shelter and food.

Abubakar Mohamed Mahmood is a Somali-Kenyan who has worked for 20 years in the Dadaab settlement — which now houses more than 400,000 refugees.

"I can say primarily what is driving them from Somalia today is famine and drought," says Mohamed, who works for Medecins San Frontieres, also known by its English name, Doctors Without Borders. "People are leaving Somalia because the only way to save life is to present yourself where assistance can be offered."

Refugees Still Coming

Mohamed says more and more Somalis are fleeing into Kenya.

"These people have endured insecurity for the last 20 years in Somalia," he says. "They had a coping mechanism of how to live with insecurity. But now, after the rains have failed for the last three years — the pastoralists have lost their animals, the farmers cannot farm any longer, and now they have been rendered extremely poor."

As well, the country's weak government is battling an Islamist insurgency.

The new arrivals from Somalia have been housed in what's become a tent city on the perimeter of the camp. Nur Bule Ali, and his wife, two sons and daughter, are among the refugees there.

"I came from Mogadishu and stayed almost eight months here at the refugee camps. I fled because of insecurity and war, I ran away at night, and my family was all helter-skelter. Life is better here in Kenya," he says, "because of shelter, peace and guaranteed security."

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Transcript

MELISSA BLOCK, host: This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Melissa Block.

ROBERT SIEGEL, host: And I'm Robert Siegel.

The African Union is set to hold what it's calling a pledging summit tomorrow. The purpose is to raise funds and awareness of the drought and famine in the Horn of Africa, especially in war-torn Somalia. More than 12 million people in the region need urgent humanitarian aid, nearly three and a half million in Somalia alone.

As NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports, Somalis continue to stream across the border into Kenya, seeking security, shelter and food.

(SOUNDBITE OF CROWD)

OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: This is Ifo-2 Camp here at Dadaab refugee settlement in northern Kenya, hours before time to break the Ramadan fast. It's hotter, drier and dustier than ever, sweltering heat, but here, dozens of women and young girls have gathered outside the Turkish refugee assistance.

HAWA ABDI: (Foreign language spoken)

QUIST-ARCTON: Hawa Abdi is from southern Somalia, a part of the country where famine has been declared by the U.N. She says she's been a refugee here at Dadaab Camp for the past six months. An evening meal of rice, meat and vegetables is being handed out to break the Muslim fast.

ABUBAKAR MOHAMED MAHMOOD: I can say primarily that what is driving them out of Somalia today is the famine and the drought, because the only way to save life is to come and present yourself where assistance can be offered.

QUIST-ARCTON: Abubakar Mohamed Mahmood, a Somali-Kenyan who has worked in the camp settlement for the past 20 years, says more and more Somalis are fleeing into Kenya.

MAHMOOD: They had a coping mechanism of how to live with conflict, insecurity and chaos and violence. But now, after the rains have failed for the last three years, the pastoralists have lost their animals; the farmers cannot farm any longer; and now they have been rendered extremely poor.

QUIST-ARCTON: Mohamed works for MSF, Doctors Without Borders. His humanitarian agency provides life-saving food for severely malnourished Somali children. The U.N. is appealing for urgent donations of more than one and a half billion dollars to help them. Somalia's weak, internationally backed government is battling an Islamist insurgency.

I'm threading my way past thorn tree bushes that are doubling up as fences here, where many of the fairly new arrivals from Somalia have been housed in what has become a tented city.

Nur Bule Ali is here with his wife, two sons and a daughter.

NUR BULE ALI: (Through Translator) I came from Mogadishu because of insecurity and war. I ran away at night. Life is better here in Kenya. Yeah, because of shelter and peace.

QUIST-ARCTON: The global community has pledged to help restore peace in Somalia. Meanwhile, Somalis are grappling with conflict, drought and famine.

Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dadaab, northern Kenya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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