Adjusting to Life in a Refugee Camp

David Klauber

David Klauber, Save the Children Intern

Dolo Ado Refugee Transit Center, Ethiopia

August 19, 2011 


Magala Hafow, 34, has lived in Ethiopia for exactly 23 days.  She is one of the thousands of Somali refugees who have fled their home to seek food and safety in the refugee camps across the Ethiopian border. The journey from Somalia to Ethiopia often entails great peril for asylum seekers who must walk for days on end to reach the border with little food and water.  For Magala, this journey was particularly scary.  She is the mother of three boys, ages 4, 5, and 10, and is five months pregnant. While giving birth to her 5-year-old, she developed a severe eye problem, which has deteriorated to the extent that she cannot see well. She says that she is gradually going blind. 

But despite these tremendous obstacles, deciding to make the difficult journey from their home to Ethiopia was very simple. “We came here because I was scared for my children,” she says. “It was the only option we had. Because of the drought there is no food in Somalia; children were dying of hunger.  I just want to get food and medicine for my children.”  She describes witnessing the landscape around her small town, Kasa Hadere, transform into desert over the course of the past few months.  Her husband, a farmer, had become very ill and could not work and Magala’s sight had deteriorated to such a state that she could no longer work either.  

MRS._MAGALA_2_92453Magala and her sons.
Photo Credit: David Klauber/Save the Children

Though Magala and her family have now made it to Ethiopia, their journey remains unfinished.  She and her sons have been living in the temporary intake centers in Dolo Ado where asylum seekers are registered and granted official status as refugees.  The refugee camps, 30 miles away, have been so overburdened by the massive surge of arriving refugees that they can no longer accommodate any more people.  The construction of a new camp is underway but in the meantime Magala and her family must continue to live in the transit center where nearly 11,000 other refugees are waiting to be registered and relocated.

Recognizing the dire health status of arriving refugees such as Magala and her boys and the delays they face in reaching the refugee camps, Save the Children has initiated a feeding program in the refugee transit and registration centers.  The program provides two daily meals for all children aged 5 and younger. Magala explains how important this service is because the only other food offered to refugees at the center is difficult for her boys to eat.  “This is the only option we have now. My children are not able to eat the other food that is provided here because they are not used to it and makes them sick. So I take them here to Save Children’s tent where they can eat and also get milk.  I am so appreciative of the feeding program.  They have now started eating again and I am so relieved.” 

Magala still worries about her sons as she watches them struggle to adapt to such a new and harsh environment.  “The children are afraid. We were not from an urban area.  They are not used to being around so many people so they are having a very hard time mixing with the other children.  But I am hopeful that they will become more settled when we get to the refugee camps.”  Magala says that she is also feeling hope for her unborn child and the chance for new life in Ethiopia.  “I’m expecting I can get medicine for my eyes here and that my children can have food, milk, medicine, and schooling.  This is all I want.”

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