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Dadaab, Kenya

This is the world’s largest refugee camp.

2012 saw the 20th anniversary of Dadaab. It was originally intended to be three camps hosting 90,000 people following Somalia’s civil war, but over 460,000 were living there in 2012. Many were not just refugees who fled their country. Multiple generations have been born in this camp.

In the previous year, 2011, famine in Somalia drove people to flee to Dadaab in high numbers (over 1000 per day). (Source.)

A study in 2010 found that Dadaab, as Kenya’s 3rd largest city, added $14 million in net benefits to the regional economy. (Source.)

Growing Up & Education
France24 News takes a look at camp life for those who grew up there.

Once you’re in Dadaab, there really is no way out, except through education and hope of a scholarship abroad. Residents cannot leave the camp without a permit, though $400 per person is given if you choose to return to Somalia. The makers of this film say that in some places, it looks more like a city than a refugee camp. Yet other areas of the camp are extremely poor and there is malnutrition. The camp can be dangerous (there was an attack on a police checkpoint) and they had to leave at 3pm. Citing security reasons, authorities have threatened to close the camp, worried that militants are getting in.

  • Abdirizak has lived in Dadaab almost 10 years and wishes to go to university in Canada. He teaches high school chemistry while he waits.
  • Rahma, she came to Dadaab at 12 and and couldn’t read or write. Now 19 years old, she wishes to be a chemical engineer. She tries to convince refugees not to go back to Somalia since there’s nothing there for them.
  • Some came to Dadaab for the schools, which are free thanks to NGOs. In Somalia, school is for the elite.
  • Many children are still too poor to attend the schools and have to work. One father can’t afford the schoolbooks.
  • The UN gives 3 kilo rations of food to each family. It is not enough. Shelters are also falling down.
  • Sagaro, who was born in the camp, missed the junior high entrance exam so became an ice cream vendor. With the money, he was able to start a video game stand. This is how he now supports his family. He applied for asylum in the US 5 years ago and is still waiting to hear back on his application.
  • The wealthiest in the camp own a restaurant or hotel. Some sell the UN food rations.
  • In 2016 30,000 refugees went back to Somalia. Some had never been there.

Keeping Busy

Here is one way to keep busy and do what you love too, despite all the hardships of refugee camp life. This man has a music studio! “Music is my community.”

A refugee newspaper written by refugees, for refugees.

Violence & Crime
Source 1 Source 2 Source 3 Source 4

Humanitarian staff have been threatened and aid workers have been kidnapped.

  • 2012: A convoy leaving one of the camps with the Norwegian Refugee Council secretary general was attacked. One vehicle got away, but in the other the driver was killed and a worker shot. Four of the staff in that car were kidnapped and held for four days.
  • 2015: A Kenyan teacher employed with NGO Windle Trust was kidnapped by militant group Al-Shabaab and taken across the border into Somali, where she was rescued a few days later.

Some believe that Al-Shabaab uses the refugee camp for recruiting.

  • 2013 Westgate shopping mall attack: A mass shooting that killed around 70 people and injured over 175. Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility and was in response to Kenyan military entering Somalia.
    • The Kenyan military went into Somalia looking for the militants who were kidnapping aid workers in Dadaab and they wanted to stop them from crossing the border.
  • 2015 Garissa University attack: 147 killed by Al-Shabaab.
    • This attack by Al-Shabaab is believed to be for the same reasons as the one at Westgate

“The UN mission in Dadaab operates under UN phase three security restrictions stipulating travel by convoy and with an armed police escort, no free movement of staff without armed guards in the camps and a curfew for humanitarian workers, who have to be in a secure compound from 6 pm to 6 am.”


There is another way out of this camp, and that is by resettling in another country. But what happens when you have plans and dreams of resettling in the US only to be told you’re banned from entering since you’re from Somalia?


As of 2012 more than 968,000 Somali refugees were being hosted in neighboring countries. Most went to Kenya while others went to Yemen and Ethiopia.

For more information about the world’s refugees (and US statistics), click here: Updates coming as I write them!