Kenya: Fleeing insecurity and starvation, 17 years on
04 August 2011

Somali children in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya. Majority of the Somali refugees are children and like Ahmed, some have lost their parents. (Sophie Vodvarka/JRS)
A few days later I joined a group of people who were trying to leave the village because of the constant insecurity, violence and starvation.
Kakuma, 3 August 2011 – Twenty-seven year-old Ahmed* from Somalia has lived in Kakuma refugee camp, north-west Kenya since 2004.As tens of thousands are fleeing drought and conflict in Somalia, he remembers what made him flee 17 years ago. Stories like Ahmed's show how protracted the crisis in Somalia is. His experience is another call to action, not only for immediate relief but also for mid- and long-term solutions for the country itself as well as the more than 750,000 Somali refugees in exile. 

I was born in a village in southern Somalia. In early 1991 fights broke out, countless people were killed and others starved to death, the suffering was far beyond human imagination.

One evening our compound was invaded by four heavily armed men who were looking for money and food. We lacked the basic necessities so we were not able to give them what they demanded.

They wanted to take one of my sisters by force and shot my father dead because he tried to protect her. Finally they grabbed my sister and disappeared with her.We were left behind, scared.

A few days later I joined a group of people who were trying to leave the village because of the constant insecurity, violence and starvation. That was in 1994 and I was 10 years old. We walked for four days until we reached Kismayo, a town at the southern Somali coast. 

When we got there, I couldn't walk any more, my feet were swollen and it took me seven days to recover. In Kismayo, I met a man who took me with him on his boat to Kenya. I fled Somalia with his support.

Living in the streets of Mombasa

He introduced me to his family and treated me like one of his own kids. Unfortunately he fell sick and died a few months later. Because of his unexpected death, everything changed for his family and I couldn't continue living with them anymore.

I ran away and lived in the streets of Mombasa.Street life was not easy. I survived by cleaning cooking utensils in small restaurants and I got food in return.I usually slept on the beach, constantly being alert because the police patrolled the beach regularly and I knew they would catch me for I was an outlaw in Kenya. When it rained I paid the guards in the Mombasa market a small bribe and they let me sleep in a dry spot, under a tarpaulin.

Almost ten years after I had arrived to Kenya I heard about Kakuma refugee camp and I decided to move there in 2004. I finally got registered as a refugee but life remained challenging and complicated.

In Kakuma I got to know JRS. Intense counselling and training in mental health care helped me to better cope with my experiences and go on with my life. I gained new skills and I am now working as an incentive volunteer and supervisor in the JRS Mental Health Programme, supporting my fellow refugees who are more in need. This gives me a perspective for my future and it makes me feel proud.

Through its mental health care programme, JRS offers psychosocial support through counselling and alternative healing therapies to refugees experiencing stress and tension. Care and support are also offered for mentally and physically challenged refugees. JRS regularly trains refugees in basic counselling skills so they can reach out to their own communities. Their therapeutic work in those communities is closely monitored.

*not his real name