Life and love for Somalis in Kenyan refugee camp

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Photo of a Somali school in Dadaab Kenya refugee camp (Image from Wiki Commons)

Story by PRI's The World. Listen to audio above for full report.

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Hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees have fled their homes for Kenya to escape ongoing violence. The population inside of Kenya's Dadaab has ballooned to more than 400,000 people. The United Nations recently announced that food assistance has now reached nearly half of the people in need, but some 750,000 Somali are at risk of dying of famine in the next four months.

Inside the camp, though, "it's very well organized," according to the BBC’s Wairimu Gitahi. "I must say, I was very very impressed, compared to the many many reports that I've read or seen on television about starving children -- who are there but not everybody who is there is starved, as sometimes we tend to show on news reports." One of the people who Gitahi interviewed even offered her a soda.

The camp has been around for years, and at this point there is some functioning infrastructure. There's a bus from the center of Kenya's capital directly into the camp, and many people use motorbikes to get around. "When people live in a place for so long, I mean 20 years," Gitahi reports, "you need to find ways of going on with your life."

The medical situation is still dire for many people throughout the camp, and some groups like Doctors Without Borders are still struggling to provide medical care for everyone in need. But Gitahi says, "now it's quite OK, it's not as bad as it was in the beginning."

For a solution, Gitahi says that people need to work inside of Somalia. "As long as we don't have a solution inside of Somalia," she says, "it's very difficult to be able to sort out the issue of refugees."

In the meantime, though, Somalis in the camp are continuing to try to get on with their lives. One woman who Gitahi spoke with was preparing for her wedding day. "Love is everywhere, even in refugee camps," she said. "People think that refugees are too desperate to fall in love, but no. Love is natural. Refugees are also human. They fall in love. They get married, they have children. In this camp you often find weddings taking place. No matter where you are, you will always find love."

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PRI's "The World" is a one-hour, weekday radio news magazine offering a mix of news, features, interviews, and music from around the globe. "The World" is a co-production of the BBC World Service, PRI and WGBH Boston.More about The World.

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