Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The refugee camps of Kenya

In the dry areas of the Kenya, people find a place to sleep within refugee camps set up for people who had to flee their home. Not all of the people in these camps are "bums". Some people are ending up in these camps through natural disasters, which seem to be increasing in number. Some people end up in these cities because of war, taking away their safety and their livelihood.

NBC News reporter Martin Fletcher, one of the last of the good TV News journalists, provides this tour of signs posted around one such camp.

They shuffle aimlessly in the dust: 50,000 refugees crammed into thousands of huts made from branches, leaves, mud and plastic in the Kakuma camp in Northern Kenya.

Natives of Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan, Rwanda, Burundi and Uganda, the refugees have fled wars aggravated by drought, yet even here the supply of water is sporadic. They eat once a day from supplies provided by aid agencies. Kakuma is one of the oldest and largest refugee camps in the world and some people have been here since 1991 when it was established.

They don’t like to talk to strangers about their problems, but the roads are lined by placards, erected by aid agencies, with slogans and exhortations that are like windows into the refugees’ pain.

The most graphic reads: "STOP FEMALE GENITAL MUTILATION – IT IS A HEALTH HAZARD (RISK)." The signs are in English, Kenya’s official language, but since the camp’s residents speak a wide variety of regional and native languages, the words are incomprehensible to most refugees.

However anyone can get the message from the disturbing illustration of a woman kneeling with a razor while a mother offers up her infant girl. Female genital mutilation is almost universal in Somalia and common in neighboring countries.

Another exhorts people to "STOP WIFE INHERITANCE" – the practice of giving a widow to the dead man’s brother. Originally this was done to protect the widow, who may not otherwise find another husband, but aid workers say it reduces women to the level of chattel. It is one of the key issues they raise when trying to educate women about their rights, but there is a major problem: men are the leaders here and they must agree to end the practice.

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