GARISSA, KENYA, 24 Oct 2012 — Garissa, the town we are residing in now is just like any other town in Kenya. Nevertheless, with the exception of Mombasa, a majority of the population here are Muslims and most of them are of Somali descent. Garissa is about eight hours drive from capital Nairobi.
Walking in Garissa gives you the opportunity to observe more mosques and people clad with Arab-like attire; robes, hijab, that sort. Some of them might greet you with the occasional ‘salam’ if they know you are Malaysian.
We are now one day away from reaching the Dadaab refugee camps at the outbacks of Garissa. The time left must be used efficiently for the mission’s survival, hence the meetings and visits that were set with the local authorities today. We were given a briefing by Mr. Abdullahi Salat, Chairman of the Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM) before heading out. Being the highest authority of Muslim NGOs in Kenya, our movements were synergised and supervised by the council to ensure that everything will go as planned, with the team’s security being the top priority.
Our first appointment of the day was at the Garissa County Commissioner’s office. This meeting is crucial as to inform the highest authority of the province of our presence and its purpose, as well as to obtain access to security escorts starting tomorrow. Safety has been our greatest concern since arriving in Garissa yesterday. Some brothers from a Turkish NGO, Helping Hand, whom we met over breakfast reminded us of the issue of security disturbance in Dadaab. We were told that without armed escort, access to Dadaab will be denied by the local police. This of course is something that we would not risk. The meeting with the County Commissioner went well. The mention of HALUAN’s contribution in the World Food Programme with UNHCR and the Qurban program in 2011 did help in creating an impression with the local authority. With its approval, we were linked to the Garissa Police HQ for request of armed escort to Dadaab. The meeting with the local OCPD was excellent.
The problem of Somali refugees is not only about their livelihood in the refugee camps. Many of them try to look for a better life away from the desert. Most of them would set for Garissa, the nearest town, where they have families and brothers to cling on to. The setback is that, being unlucky, many of them were arrested as illegal immigrants and imprisoned. Garissa is a no-go zone for Somali refugees. There are various checkpoints to weed them out. So Dadaab is as far as they can travel up to.
There is tendency for crime due to the desperate need for food and money. Realising this, we were taken by SUPKEM to the Garissa County Prison for a meeting with the Kenya Prisons Authority. “The refugee-prisoners deserve to celebrate as others outside the walls do on Eid,” said Mr. Abdullahi. Praise be to God, permission to channel some portions of our slaughtered meats to the Muslim prisoners was granted. The process will be witnessed by the HALUAN team and supervised by the prison imam next Sunday.
The HALUAN Humanitarian Relief for Somali Refugees team extends its appreciation to SUPKEM for its assistance in allowing Malaysian citizens’ donations this qurban to be channeled to more meaningful avenues.
Report by Bro. Irwan Shah Affendi in Garissa, Kenya.