Somalis worry about loved ones in 'humanitarian disaster'

LEWISTON — Somalia native Abdirisak Maalin, 27, just returned home from what he thought would be a visit with uncles, aunts and cousins doing OK in a refugee camp in Kenya.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Abdirisak Maalin of Lewiston returned Sunday from a 16-day visit to refugee camps in Kenya. Maalin lived at Dagahaley refugee camp from 1991 to 2002 and still has relatives there. "They look horrible," Maalin said of the thousands of people living at the camp. "You feel like crying whenever you look at them."

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Hussein Ahmed's father and siblings live at the Hagadera refugee camp in Kenya. He sends them money to help buy food, but worries about them. Drought-stricken Somalia has overcrowded the camps, and many are dying from starvation. Ahmed owns the Global Halal Market on Lisbon Street in Lewiston.

Daryn Slover/Sun Journal

Hussein Ahmed's father and siblings are living at the Hagadera refugee camp in Kenya. Ahmed is the owner of the Global Halal Market on Lisbon Street in Lewiston.

But what he saw made him cry.

The United Nations is calling drought-ridden Somalia and overcrowded Kenya refugee camps the “worst humanitarian disaster” in the world. The Kenya refugee camps, which now hold some 380,000, are overcrowded with refugees fleeing a drought in Somalia that has killed crops and livestock, leaving people no way to feed themselves.

The plight of relatives in Somalia and the Kenyan camps weigh heavier than normal these days on the minds of Lewiston Somalis. Other than praying and sending money, they are powerless to help.

Maalin, who works as an interpreter, spent six days at two camps in Kenya and 10 days at a third, Dagahaley, where he lived from 1991 to 2002.

“I knew how bad the camp was. Now the camp is double its size. Conditions are horrible,” Maalin said. People live in shelters made of blankets and branches. “Parents are looking terrible, terrified. There's nothing to eat.” The camp looks like a war zone. “Tens of thousands arrive every day because of the drought. They had to walk seven to 15 days there without food.”

Some of the newly arrived included his aunts. “You cannot look at them. You feel like crying,” he said. “They don't have energy. They look dull. They are thin, starving. Some of their kids died on the way to the camp, or died at the camp.”

Children are dying of malnutrition, whooping cough and diarrhea.

“UNICEF cannot provide help for most of them, they do not have enough supplies,” Maalin said. “People are overwhelming the camps, but more are coming every day. They say it's like 1991,” when people fled Somalia because of the civil war.

Today people fleeing Somalia still face being beaten or shot by Al-Shabab militants. Those who do make it to the camps have to wait days for their turn to be registered. Once registered, they get some food and supplies, but supplies are limited. Since they arrive weak, many die waiting.

All three camps in Dadaab are the same: Overcrowded, with people living in makeshift shelters, Maalin said. Everything is brown.

“Everything's dry. There are no animals. The livestock are dead. People are coming to the camps because they have no other option. They lived through the civil war. They lived through many droughts,” but this drought is different.

He heard stories of parents who abandoned their children too weak to walk and too big to carry. They left them under a tree. To do otherwise would mean everyone would die, he said. “It makes you cry. The person telling you will cry.”

Hussein Ahmed, owner of Global Halal on Lisbon Street, thinks often about his father and siblings at the Hagadera camp.

“He's lucky to have me here,” Ahmed said. Money he sends to Kenya helps them buy food and occasional cellphone calls.

He worries about the tens of thousands who don't have relatives sending money. “There's a huge number of people who are not registered, and are not getting any food or supplies from anywhere,” he said. “They have nothing. People are starving. Children are dying.”

Before he came to Lewiston in 2001, Abdi lived at the Hagadera camp for 10 years. “I know how hard it is to live on the rations provided by the United Nations. For those who do not have outside help, this is the worst time" because of limited food supplies provided by the U.N. and drought. "We don't know how we can help," Ahmed said, adding there's talk about setting out donation boxes in stores to raise money for aid.

Rilwan Osman also sends money to his sisters and brothers in the camps. “I think about them all the time,” Osman said. “It's really hard.”

The drought is even harsher than terrorists, he said. Bullets can be dodged by hiding in a bush in the jungle, Osman said, “but you cannot hide from hunger.”

What do you think of this story?

Login to post comments

In order to make comments, you must create a subscription.

In order to comment on, you must hold a valid subscription allowing access to this website. You must use your real name and include the town in which you live in your profile. To subscribe or link your existing subscription click here.

Login or create an account here.

Our policy prohibits comments that are:

  • Defamatory, abusive, obscene, racist, or otherwise hateful
  • Excessively foul and/or vulgar
  • Inappropriately sexual
  • Baseless personal attacks or otherwise threatening
  • Contain illegal material, or material that infringes on the rights of others
  • Commercial postings attempting to sell a product/item
If you violate this policy, your comment will be removed and your account may be banned from posting comments.



This is terrible.

My heart goes out to the entire community, both here and at the refuge camps. While the argument for taking care of America first is a valid one, it is not viable.

This planet works under the concept of "Community of Nations", rather similar to how villages and small towns used to operate. It is the responsibility of the strong and powerful, who choose to lead, to provide aid and assistance to those that require it.

At the end of the day there is one simple truth, we are all human beings, Earthlings! We need to bring this world together as one, work to stomp out evil wherever it raises it's face.

I make no claims to have a full understand of Somalian culture or history, but that is irrelevant. I am friendly and sociable to my neighbors, our children play together and we work to make our small community the best that we can.

I wish there was a way I could help, be it monetary or offering my own labor to make this better. However, the people in this article, as well as oppressed people everywhere in our world, our home, are constantly in my thoughts.

 's picture

While I do feel sorry for the

While I do feel sorry for the individuals who are and have been put through this exprience. That being said, the United States needs to worry about OUR people first. We can no longer afford to police the world and continue to feed the entire world. People most likely are going to be calling me insensitive and everything else, but who is helping our hungry? There are millions of Americans around the U.S. that don't have a roof over their heads and don't have anything to eat. There are not enough shelters for these people and there is not enough food for these people to eat. These people are often not seen because they do not have Time Magezine taking pictures of them or have infomercials on TV. It's time we worry about our own BEFORE we worry about others. If we don't help our own then no one will, unlike how we help everyone else. Just some food for thought.

 's picture


I am so sorry ? I hope everything works out for you all .

 's picture


"lived in a refugee camp for 10 years"

What impact would it have on each of us, to be born and raised in a place where there is constant war, terror is the norm. From the terror of murderers, terrorists, lawlessness combined with the horrific constant danger of dying from hunger. Whether is is your child that is impacted directly as mentioned, to die, be abandoned for the survival of the larger group.
Do we think that those who "survive" do not live in a total norm of "shell shock" of "post traumatic stress disorder"?

The thing is, even if I try to imagine what I would do, if I try to put myself in that position, I know it cannot touch the depth of the REALITY of that experience/lifetime.

Then to have a "dream come true" to be sent to a place that is heaven in comparison, safety, lawfulness, more than enough food, good schools, etc....

How does one assimilate? Imagine the impact on feelings, perceptions of how I would see the world. My past will be ingrained as to be part of me...imagine how I might proceed forward and what my/your approach to life might be.

How can a human being not have compassion and understanding and patience for that other human being.??


Stay informed — Get the news delivered for free in your inbox.

I'm interested in ...