Lure of high-risk riches too strong for Somalia refugees
09 May 2015, 09:51
Dadaab - On a good day, Salat Ahmed and his pregnant wife
Sadiyo make $2 selling kilogramme bundles of khat, a leafy green herb that is
mildly narcotic when chewed.
They run their business from a corrugated tin shack
beside an extravagantly cratered dirt road in Ifo, one of five camps that
together form the world's largest refugee settlement, Dadaab in northeast
Most of their money goes on rent, food and medicine for
them and their two young children, 4-year old Farhiyo and her little brother
Guled, aged 2.
But Ahmed's dream is big, common and dangerous.
He longs to join the exodus of mostly young men who make
the arduous journey north overland through Ethiopia, Sudan and Libya, across
the Mediterranean Sea and into Europe.
The European border control agency, Frontex, says over
284 000 migrants attempted to enter Europe in 2014, with at least a third
coming from sub-Saharan Africa. More than 7 400 came from Somalia.
"I dream of a life in Europe," said Ahmed, who
is 21. He knows all about the dangers. He has heard of the mass drownings -
most recently of an estimated 900 people in a single tragedy - and of the
money-hungry militias turning Libya into a facsimile of his own home country,
But he has also heard from friends who have made it, and
he calculates the risk is worth taking.
"I know about the difficulties, but if you compare
them to the difficulties I already have here in the camp? They are more than
that," he said. "There's no bright future here, for me or my
Ahmed is one of 350 000 Somali refugees living in the
Dadaab refugee camps 80km from the border. They have come to Kenya in waves
since 1991, propelled by civil war and famine.
The first arrivals fled their collapsing country as
warlords wrested the state from dictator Mohamed Siad Barre. Famine came after
and more crossed the border. Other large influxes followed a US-backed invasion
by Ethiopia in 2006 and another famine in 2011.
Fed up with hosting the refugees and suspicious that the
camps harbour terrorists from Somalia's Shabaab militant group, Kenya now wants
the refugees to leave.
'Ready to die
Ahmed is keen to go, but not to Somalia. "Life in
Europe is 100% okay. Friends who reached Europe call and say things are good
there and I believe them. And I have seen it on TV," he added.
Ahmed's goal is to save the $3 000 he says he needs to
make the journey. He has been trying since he arrived in Dadaab in 2010 after
fleeing Somalia's routine violence that made his job as a minibus taxi driver
in the capital Mogadishu a daily gamble with death.
"I understand the dangers of the journey to Europe,
but you either live a good life or you perish trying. I've heard of those who
die on the journey but it is a risk you must take for a good life," he
Noor Hussein, a 27-year old primary school teacher,
shares the dream of a better future and, like Ahmed, believes Europe is where
he must go.
Hussein was carried to Dadaab on his mother's back as a 2-year-old
baby and has lived in the camp ever since. He went to primary and then
secondary school in Dadaab before training as a teacher at a college in the
nearby town of Garissa.
Life as a permanent refugee is no life at all, he said.
"I have to go elsewhere out of this region, that's
what I need," said Hussein. "Pain is staying here 25 years."
Like others who have gone before him Hussein believes he
will find work in Europe and be able to send money back to Dadaab and to
Somalia, playing his part in improving his family's lot. And for that he is
willing to risk it all.
"Death can come to me in bed, on a journey, or
anywhere, so I don't fear. If I make it my life can change," said Hussein.
"I believe that I will succeed."