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Farrow Draws Attention To Plight Of African Refugees
Originally published on Mon August 29, 2011 7:34 am
In the Horn of Africa, 12 million people are in need of food aid because of the drought. The people of Somalia, facing both famine and war, are some of the hardest hit.
Many of those fleeing Somalia seek refuge in the southwest, at Kenya's giant Dadaab refugee camp. The settlement is about 50 miles from Kenya's border with Somalia. There are almost half a million Somalis in the camp – with more arriving every day.
In recent weeks, high-profile international visitors have paraded through the dusty camps. The latest is actress and activist Mia Farrow. She's a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and traveled to Dadaab, to show her solidarity with the refugees and to spread the word about their suffering.
School's out in Dadaab, so armed with a black notebook and a camera, Farrow's first stop is meeting with the children. Camp officials say they admitted about 1,500 in the last 3-4 months. The recent influx of children, which arrived from Somalia, is acclimatizing to refugee life in Kenya and preparing for school ahead of the new term beginning next month.
From the school, it's off to the Ifo Reception Center at one of the camps. At the center, the new Somali refugees are given wrist bands and a three-week supply of food.
"[What do you do] if you see a child that's looking very thin, for instance?" Farrow asks Mehreen Afzal the protection officer for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) at Ifo.
Afzal says there is a medical screening unit that is set up to help those that need immediate attention.
"The idea is to capture all those that are severely malnourished and to send them immediately to the hospital," Afzal says.
Ifo Hospital is full of severely-malnourished children that have withered down to skin and bones. Farrow, who is accompanied by her own daughter, Quincy, expresses her sorrow to Sadumo Salad, a mother who has lived through war, the Islamist insurgency and drought in Somalia.
"The lady was saying, 'if there could be rain, she would go home," Farrow says. "She says [she] can deal with the violence ... if only there would be rain. And so she came with her children."
Like many in the camp, Salad is praying for rain.
Farrow says she will ask the world not to forget the people suffering drought and famine in the Horn of Africa.
"People seem dazed because of the long walk and the reasons that they were forced to leave," she says. "[They left] because their cattle died, because their crops failed [and] because no rain was coming."
Farrow says many of the refugees told her they were terrified of the bombs, but some also said they would return to Somalia if the rains would come.
"They want rain and then they want peace," she says. "Those are very, very basic requests."
LAURA SULLIVAN, host: We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan.
The giant Dadaab refugee camp settlement in northern Kenya is home to almost half a million Somalis with more crossing the border every day to escape violence and famine. In all, 12 million people need food aid because of the drought in the Horn of Africa. High-profile international visitors have paraded through the dusty camps in recent weeks. The latest is Mia Farrow, the actress who's also a United Nations goodwill ambassador.
NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton caught up with her just as she arrived.
(SOUNDBITE OF PLANE ENGINE)
OFEIBEA QUIST-ARCTON: Wheels down, Mia Farrow has arrived in Dadaab. So nice to meet you.
MIA FARROW: Hi.
QUIST-ARCTON: My name is Ofeibea from NPR. Pleased to meet you, ma'am.
FARROW: Hello. Happy to meet you.
FARROW: Thank you. Oh, it's a pleasure.
QUIST-ARCTON: There were a couple of droplets of rain just as your plane was circling and landing.
FARROW: And then no more, huh?
QUIST-ARCTON: But what, good auspices?
FARROW: I hope so. I hope so. We certainly hope for rain. A soft, enduring, gentle rain for the next, what, four months? That would be lovely.
QUIST-ARCTON: Dadaab refugee settlement is about 50 miles from Kenya's arid and dusty border with Somalia, across which tens of thousands of Somalis have made their way in recent weeks, escaping conflict, drought, and now famine. Armed with a black notebook and a camera, Mia Farrow gets down to business. First stop: a meeting with children.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Eye, ear.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Eye, ear.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Nose and mouth.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Nose and mouth.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Head, shoulder, knees and toes.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Head, shoulder, knees and toes.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Eye, ear, nose and mouth.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Eye, ear, nose and mouth.
UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Eye, ear...
FARROW: How many of the children are - have arrived in the last three, four months?
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Oh, it's quite a big number. We admitted about 1,500. Yeah...
QUIST-ARCTON: School's out in Dadaab, but the recent influx of children arriving from Somalia is acclimatizing to refugee life in Kenya and preparing for school ahead of the new term beginning next month.
UNIDENTIFIED MAN: Hello.
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: Hello.
FARROW: How are you?
UNIDENTIFIED CHILDREN: I'm fine!
FARROW: Excellent. Does anyone want to talk about - explain to me how they came here? Anybody?
QUIST-ARCTON: From the school, it's off to Ifo Reception Center at one of the camps. Here, the new Somali refugees are given wristbands and a three-week supply of food. More questions from Mia Farrow and answers from Meherreen Afzal of the UN Refugee Agency at Ifo.
FARROW: And if you see a child that's looking very thin, for instance, a little one there by the tree?
MEHERREEN AFZAL: Yeah. There's a medical screening unit that is set up. The idea is to capture all those that are severely malnourished and to send them immediately to the GIZ Hospital, which is right behind.
(SOUNDBITE OF BABY CRYING)
QUIST-ARCTON: This ward at Ifo Hospital is full of severely malnourished children. They're skin and bones. Farrow, who is accompanied by her own daughter, Quincy, expresses her sorrow to one mother, Sadumo Salad, who has lived through war, the Islamist insurgency and drought in Somalia.
FARROW: The lady was saying that if there could be rain, she would go home. She says she can deal with the violence if only there would be rain. And so she came with her children, and she's praying for rain like everyone here.
QUIST-ARCTON: So what else have the Somali refugees been telling Mia Farrow?
FARROW: People seem dazed because of the long walk and the reasons that they were forced to leave, because their cattle died, because their crops failed, because no rain was coming, because missiles were falling, and gunfire was so much a part of just being terrified through the days and nights. And one woman said to me, what will happen to us now? As if I could say. And I said - I asked if she would go home again, to Somalia.
This woman here said, yes, if the rains would come. Another woman said, I'm terrified of the bombs. They want rain, and then they want peace. Those are very, very basic requests.
QUIST-ARCTON: Farrow says she will ask the world not to forget the people suffering drought and famine in the Horn of Africa. Ofeibea Quist-Arcton, NPR News, Dadaab, northern Kenya. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.