The camps are full. Child graves are appearing. And still the hungry come

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

John Davison visits a Somali refugee shelter to witness the scale of the famine crisis unfolding in the Horn of Africa

They call it Bulabakti and it is the place where thousands of people from Somalia are beginning a precarious new existence as refugees from drought, famine and conflict. Lying on the outskirts of one of the largest camps in the Dadaab complex, in Kenya's North Eastern Province, it is a windswept, dusty plain dotted with makeshift shelters and hungry, exhausted people.

It used to be where carcasses of dead animals were dumped and the name means "place of the corpses". It is now a place where the bodies of children are adding to that grim reputation. In just over two weeks a patch of fresh graves has appeared in the area settled by new arrivals, each topped with a tangle of thorns from the mathenge shrub to keep off scavenging animals and birds. Of these, 13 are for children who refugees say died from a mixture of malnutrition and dysentery.

One is for two-year-old Tamina, who died on Monday. She had survived a 12-day trip by truck from southern Somalia with her three brothers and sisters. But she had then fallen sick with a high fever, said Isho Mohammed Adou, 25, her mother, who is seven months pregnant.

In a common story among the new influx of refugees, she had left her husband behind because after selling all they had to pay for the trip there was no money left for him to travel. Isho has got a message to him that his daughter has died. "Now he says he will come," she said.

Every morning from about 5am, hundreds of new arrivals gather outside the gates of the nearby Dagahaley refugee camp. This is now receiving more refugees than the other two camps in Dadaab – the most was 1,536 in one day – while the overall total has reached more than 56,000 since the refugee emergency was declared on 6 June.

"I believe they are still going to keep coming," says Soraya Musau, emergency officer for the Lutheran World Federation (LWF), a member of the ACT alliance, which manages all the camps and coordinates the reception process. "I don't believe we have seen the worst of it yet," says Ms Musau.

The crowds are mostly patient and quiet as they wait to gain access to the reception centre. Some carry bundles of belongings.

Many have nothing but their children. The most vulnerable – unaccompanied children, the old or the handicapped – are brought to the front of the queue. At the end of the process, families will have received food for 21 days and other items such as jerry cans and cooking pots to ensure their immediate survival.

But as yet, they have nowhere to go but bleak places like Bulabakti. The established camps are full and planned new sites have not yet been opened. Some tents are distributed, but most arriving families have to build their own shelters of a wooden frame covered with whatever scraps they can forage.

A backlog of 27,000 people waiting for registration as refugees by the Kenyan government is making the situation even more serious, for it is only then that they receive their full ration cards. Bus loads from Bulabakti are taken to a central registration centre every morning, but many return every night empty-handed. This is now leading to disturbances.

Ms Musau said: "They get frustrated and start shaking our gate and throwing stones."

John Davison is part of the LWF emergency response team in Dadaab

To make a donation to the DEC East Africa Crisis Appeal, call the 24-hour hotline on 0370 60 60 900, visit www.dec.org.uk or donate over the counter at any Post Office or high street bank. You can also donate £5 by texting the word CRISIS to 70000

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Customer Accounts Executive

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity for the ...

Recruitment Genius: Team Administrator / Secretary - South East

£14000 - £17000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time Administrator/Secreta...

Recruitment Genius: Parts Advisor

£16500 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: One of the leading Mercedes-Ben...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer

£27500 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor