Separation- Stories from Dadaab

 At the end of March 2014, the Government of Kenya issued a Directive requiring all urban refugees in Kenya to relocate to the Dadaab or Kakuma refugee camps. Early...
Eritrean Dadaab
Eritrean Dadaab
 At the end of March 2014, the Government of Kenya issued a Directive requiring all urban refugees in Kenya to relocate to the Dadaab or Kakuma refugee camps. Early April, the security operation Usalama Watch was launched in response to the emerging security challenges facing Kenya. Since then, thousands of refugees and asylum-seekers of different nationalities have been arbitrarily arrested in widespread swoops in Nairobi and other urban centers, and detained and relocated by the Kenyan authorities to the refugee camps. Also, around 355 persons, including at least 3 refugees, have been deported to Mogadishu. Most of the affected refugees have lived for many years in urban centers, where they have jobs or businesses, the children attend school and those with medical needs receive treatment. In the process of arrests, detention, relocations and deportations, around 300 children so far, including babies as young as 2 months, have been separated from their mothers and fathers. Several hundred more family members have been torn apart from their spouses or other close relatives. This campaign – ‘1Family torn apart is too many’ – is based on the global 2014 World Refugee Day theme, and tells the story of children, women and men affected by the operation, and calls to action to help refugee families stay united and continue living in peace and dignity. 
 

Dadaab, Kenya, June 2014 – Dellina*, an Eritrean woman in her thirties is one among hundreds of refugees relocated by the Kenyan authorities from Nairobi to Dadaab refugee camp since mid-April 2014. She spends most of her day in the UNHCR tent in the camp, longing for the day she can reunite with her 2-year old son, from whom she was separated when arrested by the police in early May.

Dellina was arrested in Eastleigh[1], Nairobi, together with her Eritrean friend Fathima* while on their way to pick up their sons at the pre-school. Fathima is a single mother, and her son is also 2 years old. Dellina and Fathima were taken straight to Pangani, a police station in Eastleigh, for questioning.

Dellina recounts, “At the police station, one of the officers told us that our stay in the city had come to an end”.

Dellina’s eyes are wet from tears. UNHCR meets her just when she is coming out from a prayer room.   “I am tired of crying”, she says. “I just want to have my son here with me; I cannot stop thinking about him”.

“We tried to tell him about our young children who we were on our way to pick up at school that afternoon, but he and his colleagues shouted us down. One of them yelled at us saying that we should know police officers are not refugee officers,” explains Dellina.

“We tried showing them our mandate refugee certificates from UNHCR but they would hear none of that. In fact, they also took from me my son’s school fees that I was to pay that afternoon. One officer ordered me to switch off my phone claiming it was a security threat.” Dellina shows a picture of her son, and starts crying again.

She explains how she and Fathima were thrown into a police cell  full of men, some of whom had also been arrested in the Usalama Watch operation. Dellina and Fathima recall how they were later moved in a police lorry to the Kasarani Stadium, where they found what seemed to be thousands of other foreigners. The same evening, Dellina and Fathima were put onboard yellow mini-buses together with other refugees, and transported to the Dadaab camp. The journey took all night and they arrived in Dadaab in the early morning hours with just the clothes on their back and their families and belongings left in Nairobi. “We arrived in Dadaab at 3am, UNHCR had not even been notified the authorities of our arrival,” Dellina says.

“My son is now unwell yet he cannot be taken to the hospital. At least four times a day, I talk to my Eritrean neighbour who takes care of him in Nairobi.  She has been kind to me, but she is scared of leaving the house because she might be arrested too”, Dellina adds.

Dellina says she has lived in Nairobi since 2004, when she was forced to flee Eritrea due to fear of persecution and that she has never felt as humiliated as she feels now, because of the way she has been treated.

“I will have to start over once again, but I cannot imagine how until I have been reunified with my 2-year old son who, just like me, is devastated by the separation”, Dellina concludes.

The real names of Dellina* and Fatimah* have been changed to protect their identity.

Story documented by Duke Mwancha, UNHCR Dadaab, for the ‘1Family torn apart is too many’ campaign.

[1] Eistleigh is district of Nairobi, predominantly inhabited by Somalis. It has been renamed “The Little Mogadisho”.

 

Separation- Stories from Dadaab
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Duke Mwacha

Duke is a 28 years old Kenyan communication specialist currently working for UNHCR Sub-Office Dadaab as an External Relations Associate. He has worked in UNHCR Dadaab since June 2013 and his work involves community communication, media relations, donor relations and reporting.
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