Along the Kenyan/Somali border, on the Kenyan side, informal settlements spring up overnight like field mushrooms.
These camps become city-like in their size. The infamous Dadaab Camp is reported to be the largest refugee camp on the planet with almost 500,000 residents – almost twice as large as Wollongong and Newcastle, and more than twice the size of Hobart.
At Anglican Aid, we have been keeping in regular contact with our partners in Kenya who are delivering life-saving aid to these refugees. One of our partners, Canon Francis Orombi of the Anglican Church of Kenya, and the director of The Sheepfold Ministry (TSM) has been describing the way Christmas has been celebrated in the Dadaab camp.
Advent was a time of great anxiety in the whole region. One of Francis’ colleagues, John, was in a café at a town called Garissa when a grenade was thrown amongst the patrons. John rushed to the medical clinic 100 metres away with blood all over his face. He was treated for shrapnel injuries, only to learn that another grenade had been thrown nearby into a busy shopping area killing six people.
As Christmas approached, Francis’ team wanted to create as much of a sense of calm and normalcy as they could to communities in trauma. Terrorists, in sympathy with Al-shabaab are seeking to destabilise the regions. Soft targets, where defenceless civilians gather, are attacked to maximise fear. Weapons of choice are grenades and landmines.
Many agencies have withdrawn from the camps until security is restored. But Francis writes:
On December 20th we had begun preparations for the Christmas week celebrations for the refugees in one precinct of Dadaab called Ifo. It was to begin with children’s programmes and parties gathering in the Gambelle Community Church. All their teachers and parents were pleased to participate as TSM facilitated the programme. We had been barred from gathering in big groups so we split them into several groups gathering in different camps.
While the parties were going on, there was another blast. It was at the Ifo camp where we were gathered, targeting the security forces, in retaliation for Kenyan forces fighting Al-shebaab inside Somalia. Only the previous day a landmine had killed two policemen here.
More aid agency workers began to leave Dadaab for Nairobi. The World Food Programme (WFP) withdrew their staff and is now delaying ration distribution until further notice.
But we had to honour our commitment and bring food to over 1,000 families we have been responsible for. We wanted our giving to coincide with Christmas. We sent two lorries with food maize flour, beans, oil and sugar. We were being waited for eagerly.
Thankyou very much for your prayers and support that has enabled us to provide this service. Blessed season!
I first met Francis in Sydney back in August. I have been in constant email contact with him since. Francis and his team are travelling in and out and through the affected regions of the north east of Kenya every day. They evaluate the risks to their own lives alongside the risks to lives of the refugees. They choose to live with that risk in order to serve those who have no choice.
Our brothers and sisters in Christ are living with such uncertainties every day. Sydney Anglicans, through Anglican Aid, are one of their major sources of support.
Francis’ gratitude, and the gratitude of the desperately needy people he serves, is heartfelt. Please remember these vulnerable people throughout the new year and into 2012.