Rapport fra verdens største flygtningelejr

Udgivet på 24 oktober 2011

I de seneste to måneder har Dorte været udsendt til Afrikas Horn, hvor 11 millioner mennesker er ramt af sult og hungersnød og er desperat afhængige af den humanitære fødevarehjælp fra WFP. 

Dorte Jessen arbejder som katastrofekoordinator for FN’s Fødevareprogram (WFP) og har i forbindelse med sultkatastrofen på Afrikas Horn været udsendt på en to-måneders opgave til Kenya. Under opholdet har hun skrevet små noter om det, hun har set omkring sig. Her giver vi dig et indblik i, hvordan katastrofearbejdet udspiller sig på nært hold.

Dorte Jessen arbejder som katastrofekoordinator for FN’s Fødevareprogram (WFP) og er til hverdag udstationeret i Pakistans Sindh provins.

I de seneste to måneder har Dorte været udsendt til Afrikas Horn, hvor 11 millioner mennesker er ramt af sult og hungersnød og er desperat afhængige af den humanitære fødevarehjælp fra WFP.

Her har hun, som en del af WFP’s katastrofeberedskab, arbejdet i verdens største flygtningelejr Dadaab i det nordøstlige Kenya, som huser over 400.000 flygtninge fra Somalia. Børn, kvinder og mænd på flugt fra konflikt, sult og den altfortærende hungersnød i det sydlige Somalia. Og hver dag strømmer der over tusinde nye flygtninge til Dadaab.

Dorte har gennem sine to måneder i Dadaab skrevet dagbog og med hendes tilladelse bringer vi her nogle brudstykker fra dagbogen. Hun beskriver sine tanker, da hun første gang står ansigt til ansigt med denne ufattelige menneskelige tragedie. Fortæller om mødet med somaliske kvinder, som har gået i dage- eller ugevis på flugt fra hungersnøden og døden. Spekulerer over, hvad et liv i en flygtningelejr mon gør ved børn. Og giver os et kig bag kulisserne, den dag en dansk kronprinsesse pludselig kommer forbi.

Dorte Jessen skriver på engelsk og vi har valgt at bringe uddragene fra hendes dagbog i den originale version på engelsk.

Kort om Dorte
I disse dage er Dorte Jessen på vej tilbage til Pakistan for at håndtere endnu en oversvømmelse. Her, med base i Sindh provinsen, var Dorte Jessen helt tæt på den kæmpe oversvømmelseskatastrofe, som i 2010 ramte landet. Som områdechef ledede Dorte den enorme hjælpeindsats, som sikrede, at 3,3 millioner ofre for oversvømmelserne i Sindh provinsen fik adgang til livsvigtige fødevarerationer.

Dorte er 41 år gammel og født i Sønderjylland. Hun er uddannet markedsøkonom og arbejde i 12 år på reklamebureau, først i København, siden i Brisbane, Australien.

Da hun fyldte 30, skulle der ske noget radikalt, kunne hun mærke. Hun havde lavet de reklamer, hun skulle. Hun ville gerne arbejde humanitært og brugte derfor de følgende år og alle sine ferier og fritid på forskellige grundlæggende kurser, som kunne kvalificere hende til at få arbejde i en af de humanitære organisationer. På et af kurserne mødte hun en katastrofekoordinator fra FN’s Fødevareprogram (WFP) – og hun fandt ud af, at det lige præcis var WFP, som hun gerne ville arbejde for.

Det lykkedes og første stop blev Østtimor i november 2006 som leder af områdekontor i Dili. Herefter blev hun i 2008 sendt til Myanmar i forbindelse med cyklonen Nargis hærgen. Siden kom hun til Pakistan og efter en 2 måneders afstikker til Afrikas Horn for at hjælpe til i forbindelse med sultkatastrofen er hun nu på vej tilbage til Pakistan.

Fakta om Dadaab flygtningelejren
Dadaab er verdens største flygtningelejr. Den huser mere end 400.000 mennesker på flugt fra konflikt og sult. Hver dag ankommer der over 1000 nye flygtninge til Dadaab. FN’s Fødevareprogram (WFP) sikrer, at alle flygtninge ved ankomsten modtager fødevarehjælp. Dadaab flygtningelejrene blev etableret i 1991 og var oprindeligt planlagt til at huse 90.000 flygtninge.

Famine raging in the Horn of Africa

Kitting up...
Haven't slept right since I read the devastating story of a mother who walked for 4 days to safety and food in Kenya - 3 of her children didn't make it. High Energy Biscuits already loading in Pakistan, destined for Nairobi.  Stationed in Karachi, I feel the urge to go… Can't wait to join the fight against hunger raging in the Horn of Africa. Kitting up for deployment as we speak...

Champing at the bit...
Nairobi is the first stop on the way to Dadaab. There’s always an adjustment period of a few days when you arrive in a new mission - mostly spent absorbing briefs, before going deep field. The flight to Dadaab is operated by UNHAS (United Nations Humanitarian Air Service) and since the crisis, the flights fill up quickly. Looks like I might have to stay in Nairobi until the end of the week.

Finally, some traction!
This just got interesting...out of the blue a WFP car is going to Dadaab tomorrow. It’s an 8-hour slog but I’m prepared to see if I can get a seat...working on it....then discover I can get on the flight after all. Things are definitely looking up!

I am there…
Finally! I am in Dadaab! On my first full day, we go over to Dagahale Refugee Camp. Dadaab village is not sophisticated, however, compared with the camps (tented cities in the desert) it certainly is. Life is tough in the camps. Red dust everywhere.  Driving in a convoy, we can barely see the car 10 meters in front of us. In a tent there’s no escaping the heat or the dust.

Still fleeing?
Mostly women and children meet us as we walk through the reception centre. I see a mother who has just received Plumpy’sup – a specialized nutritious ready to eat food, provided to moderately malnourished children. She has a young child on her back – another one by her hand. Less than 3 meters from the distribution point, the mother puts down her box of Plumpy’sup, takes out a sachet, bites off the corner – and hands it to her 3-year old in tow, who starts eating the sweet paste straight from the package. They then continue walking – the little one barefoot – to their new temporary home. They don’t talk or express any emotion. They just keep walking. Still fleeing war or famine – maybe both.

An unwelcoming place
The desert is an unwelcoming place – all the more so for those fleeing famine or conflict, who have trekked for days, often weeks. The World Food Programme and its partner CARE are providing food and other assistance to all new arrivals. After initial recognition from the United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, each person gets a wristband and a 21-day food ration is issued on the spot. Upon final registration (by the Kenyan authorities) plus medical screening etc. the wristband is replaced by a ration card, and each Somali is given refugee status.

Over-crowded camps
It’s only once they’ve been officially registered that the newcomers can settle properly. Even then, the formal camps are over-crowded and people often resort to staying in their temporary make-shift tents on the outskirts. It’s a relief (forgive the pun) to know that camp extensions are underway.

How do children cope?
While the onset of this famine is recent, the refugee situation in Dadaab is not. I wonder how children cope after 10 years of refugee life. How do they stay honest and motivated? How do they stay polite, well-mannered, books under their arms, respectfully greeting their teachers? I will make an effort to understand.

Preparing for a genuine Crown Princess…
How do you prepare for a Royal visitor? Turns out, the same way you prepare for any visitor of significance…. Only with three times the amount of double-checking. I even found time to Google the Minister Søren Pind, and was pleased to find that he is known for being straight forward. My favorite kind.

The “real work”
Danish Refugee Council (DRC) hosted the delegation, which was kept fairly small. Several of the accompanying visitors had field experience and could appreciate the benefits of keeping the mission nimble. They wanted to see the “real work” – without interrupting too much. As they said, “small enough not to disrupt the ongoing work, and long enough to get a first hand impression of the real issues at hand. And to get a feel for the place.” That attitude, and the whole atmosphere around this very special delegation, made it all the more worthwhile for us aid-workers. That, and the fact that these visitors in particular brought news from a home-country far, far away…

Sharing the “love of our lives”
When you catch us in the field – doing what we love doing – you get a chance to sense the energy, the drive within these operations. It’s like we get the chance to share the ‘love of our lives’ with our guests.

Be yourself
The way to greet a royal visitor – as it turns out - is to just be yourself. Concentrate and focus on being completely present and that’s how we experienced them too. Once in that space, the briefing becomes a conversation, the labored details turn into charming levels of texture. The delegation found a flow and its’ own pace, its’ own life.  This way we got around malnutrition, various ways of treatment/prevention – and something the Crown Princess had been pondering: the actual logistics of transporting the food and non-food items for newly arrived refugees to their temporary shelters - which includes donkey-carts. The Minister (again completely in a candid side-bar conversation) shared how he had really noticed the vast improvement of the response and the structures since his last visit in October last year.

Just being there
The Crown Princess even took time to sit down and talk to the newly arrived refugees. She invested herself completely in being there for them. It was quite inspirational as the temptation is to rush. But she took the time. To just be there. To listen. Genuinely.  Can’t wait to show my Mother the pictures… Yep, I am sure any Danish person overseas in this position would have gotten subtle hints from their Mothers (read: subtle as a gun).

The race for flip-flops
The royal delegation has left the camp. But no time to rest. Have signed up for the run at the UNHCR-compound to fundraise for flip-flops for the local host community.  2.6 km in sand most of the way. I ended number 4. Didn’t give me a place on the podium. But still a lot of good energy. There are two things, I could not do in Pakistan; 1) run and 2) run in shorts.

At some point, you have to make a priority
My mother turns 60 this year. She’s got a twin-sister, who also turns 60 (I know, what are the odds!) and they have decided to have a 120 years birthday, and the entire family, warts and all, will be there. Thing is, that emergencies – especially the big ones – don’t always take into account timing and personal commitments. I guess at some point you have to make a priority. This time I am determined. I will make it home. Come rain or come shine.

Her Royal Highness Crown Princess Mary of Denmark, Patron of Danish Refugee Council and now former Development Minister Søren Pind visited Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya 27.8.2011.

Fotos, copyright: WFP/Dorte Jessen, Lydia Wamala