Dadaab, hope for refugees


Update – Kenya announced the decision to close all refugee camps, a move that would displace more than 600.000 people living there. The decision includes Dadaab, the largest such camp in the world. It’s home to more than 300.000 people now. The government is shutting down the camps because of “very heavy” economic, security and environmental burdens. Kenya annouced the closure of refugee camps in 2015 for the same reasons but backed down in the face of international pressure. Governmental officials are not clear where they expect the refugees to go. Most of residents in Dadaab come from Somalia which, has been torn by civil war. Amnesty International blasted what it called a reckless decision by Kenya (May 2016).

Once at the Dadaab camp the refugees are photographed for purposes of identification by two humanitarian officers. A long silent queue, nobody smiles, no one speaks to anyone else, no one pushes ahead. Every day a thousand of new Somali people cross the border into Kenya in order to queue in front of the UNHCR Registration site. Escaping, drought, war and famine means marching for hours in the suffocating African heat. Identification is the first vital step to aid. These portraits were taken prior to their formal photographing session. Embarrassment, shame, surprise and the tears all speak of both the fear and hope of forgotten humanity. The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, has become the world’s largest, hosting some 420,000 Somalis fleeing drought and war. Somalia is the country in the Horn of Africa most threatened by famine. A twenty-year war and the worse drought of the last sixty years determined the most severe humanitarian disaster taking place in the world. nearly 2.85 million people urgently need humanitarian aid. Thousands of Somalis are heading to the Dadaab refugee camp, located in the north of Kenya, a few kilometers from the border with Somalia. Hope is buried there, in the unraveling of shanties kept together by the desperation of those who try to escape the famine that hit millions of people in the Horn of Africa. However, the arrival to Dadaab is not a guarantee of survival, especially for children that are malnourished, unhealthy and vulnerable. In the refugee camps of Dadaab, on average 5 children die every day in this period of emergency. There is then the problem of registration of refugees; as from January about 1.700 refugees reach the Dadaab camp every day, but the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees is able to register at maximum 700 of them each day, with waiting times of even one month. Not being registered means not receiving any food, not to avail oneself of healthcare facilities, not to have a place to lay the bases for a new life. Global warming, the increase in drought and the subsequent desertification represent a decisive factor for the migration of millions of eco-refugees all over the world. According to “The Environment and Human Security”, environmental refugees amount to nearly 50 millions, and this number might increase to 150 millions in 2050.


A selection of photos from the archive of Luca Catalano Gonzaga is available as collector’s prints. The goal of print selling is to contribute to the realization of the photographic projects of Witness Image that narrate the great transformations of our time.

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