COVID-19 (coronavirus disease)

Refugee Testimonies : Fowzia Mohamed Abdule

I came to the camp in 1992, with my mother and two sisters, as well as my extended family including my grandparents, uncles and others. Life has been okay, of course with challenges here and there, but they are a part of life and living in a refugee camp comes with its own so you need to endure, have a lot of patience and perseverance and you will succeed. 


Fowzia Mohammed Abdule, 30, Auxilary Nurse at MSF's maternity hospital ward in Kenya. Photo: MSF

I have lived most of my life here, gone to school here, finishing my high school in 2008. I’m a mother of four – aged between eight and three years old – all born here. With the limited resources in the camps, I managed to obtain a diploma in Community Development in 2012. I try to balance between the challenges and the benefits that come with living in a refugee camp, In 2013 I joined a Borderless Higher Education for Refugees (BHER), an initiative for refugees who did not get grades high enough to join public universities in Kenya, but still good grades that can enable them bridge through other courses, focusing mainly on education. I, therefore, obtained a certificate in Education. Some of the people I started with are almost finishing their Masters’ degrees, but I had to drop out to be a mother.  

In life, everyone has their own destiny and I got mine, which makes me happy. I still have time and I can pursue whatever goals I have. I currently work as an auxiliary nurse at the MSF hospital’s maternity ward. My work just entails helping the other qualified nurses in daily activities such as assisting in conducting deliveries, helping doctors in translations, helping patients in the wards with taking medication, among others. I have been doing this job for a year and MSF has arranged some training for us.

I enjoy my work so much. Interacting with different mothers, those in pain, those who need assistance and seeing their joy when they hold their newborn babies is rewarding. When you help others, then you also get help. 

maternity hospital
Maternity Supervisor at MSF Maternity Hospital in Kenya checks a patient. Photo: Paul Odongo/MSF

How has COVID-19 impacted your life in the camp?

For years, even before COVID-19, we were not allowed to move out of the camp without providing documentation from the Refugee Affairs Secretariat (RAS) offices, which has been very difficult for us. But then COVID-19 also came, which disrupted movement even within the camps. You can’t reach Dadaab where most of the offices are. RAS offices and all the banks are there, and some of the incentive staff are paid through the bank transfers, so accessing their monies is difficult. 

Social integration in the community has also been disrupted through social distancing. As Somalis, our culture is usually one that promotes close ties with friends and family, even extended families, but it has greatly reduced. The effects aside, we still live in fear, but we take measures to protect ourselves and our families. The healthcare services provided by MSF have been sufficient for most of the refugees in Dagahaley for a long time now, but with this pandemic, I think even the larger camp complex will struggle – should the numbers increase – due to limited resources.

What does World Refugee Day mean to you?

I used to hear about World Refugee Day ever since I was a child. It’s a good thing to commemorate, but it’s also not a good thing to celebrate a ‘refugee day’ because being a refugee is not something good. We don’t feel good to be refugees but were forced by circumstances. However, it still means that we are recognized and our stories can be heard on such platforms and issues affecting us shared, hopefully with solutions in tow. 


Challenges are a way of life, and we have to find a way to live with them. However, the camps themselves present various challenges, the main one being limited resources: education, health and security – sometimes.

In terms of education, right from primary, schools are not well equipped as compared to the population of students and pupils. Classes are overcrowded, libraries are few and existing ones have few books, laboratories are not well equipped. This causes students not to perform well. We may have a limited number of students who get grades good enough to join the Kenyan public universities.

In the food perspective, the food is not enough. In the refugee community we have different people with different backgrounds because, for me and some youths who went to school and have paying jobs, however little, or have businesses, we can supplement the food we receive. But, we have other families that don’t have any other sources of income and it’s very difficult for them. Sometimes the food provided is not edible, the sorghum provided may have been in store for long.

Also, for us as employed refugees, we have been labelled the title of ‘incentive’ workers, and such means you get paid much less for work done. I have worked with various organizations in the camp, MSF is not my first. They are all bound by a harmonization policy by UNHCR, which stipulates that ‘incentive’ staff are paid less than national or other staff, it does not matter the skills you have, years of experience or nature of work. Even with the same job description, you will still be paid much less. It’s very disappointing but “our hands are tied” – if I can also quote the agencies we work for, which are bound by those policies.

Future Prospects

I’ve never been to Somalia since I was brought here as a toddler. Going back to Somalia is an option when it becomes stable. Something else I could suggest is that for the local authorities or if UNHCR has the authority to influence this, is to push for local integration of refugees. Because, I’ve read that universally there are policies that if you stay in a country for a number of years, usually about seven years, then you can apply for citizenship of that country. If this can be possible it would be much better.

MSF's health centre
One of the two health posts that MSF runs in Dagahaley sees up to 300 patients a day. Photo: Paul Odongo/MSF

If I had to choose between integrating locally and going back to Somalia, I would choose the former. They say ‘East-West Home is Best’, Dadaab is our home, even though Somalia is where we hail from. With the current circumstances, going back is not an option for me. 

How can you stay in a country for three decades but not know where you belong? You remain a refugee without any prospects. It’s disappointing for many youths here in the camp. Because economically, socially, it has a larger impact on the youth. Because the rate of unemployment is very high in the camp, but if the movement restrictions (not COVID-19- related) could be removed, then the circumstances for refugees living in the camp could really change. 
Solutions for our issues are not in our hands but in those of the Kenyan government and UNHCR. As a refugee community, we need to be taking part in the decision-making process because the decisions made are directly affecting us. 

Between late 2016 to date, the government of Kenya has been saying the camps will be closed and people taken back to their countries of origin. Repatriation was ongoing but now COVID-19 impacted the process. But when decisions are made, it’s usually good to engage people who are affected. They need to ask for our ideas, tell us the options available for us to choose the ones that would work best for us. Our rights should not be violated because every human being has a right and refugees also have a voice that needs to be heard. This will mitigate the issues we’ve been facing. 

Most of the refugees living here are youths, and if their capabilities are utilized well, then we can make a change. All will go to waste if their capacity at this time is not utilized well.  It’s the idle youth who can also lead to insecurity, but if we give them viable solutions, then they can take part in building their nation.