amin cameyThe way Amin Amey tells it, the romance began with a headache. He had gone to buy painkillers in the market of Ifo, one of the five camps that make up the complex of Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee settlement. The pharmacy was next door to a tailor, on a side street strung with sacking to soften the desert sun. Waiting on a bench outside was a beautiful girl who had a headache too. The tailor began to tease her.

“Do you know this guy?” he asked.

“No,” she said.

“He is Amin Amey of Star FM,” said the tailor. The long-limbed boy had an afro and a winning smile. He was also a primary school teacher and news reporter – the first refugee journalist to be given a job on a Kenyan radio station, and in the camp he was something of a celebrity.

“So he’s the one who has been disturbing our ears!” she replied. In the low light Amin caught a glimpse of dark eyes beneath strong eyebrows in a pretty, open face. What he remembers most though, is her soft voice, always laughing. “Since we are both Ifoans, how come we are not friends already?” she asked. In May 2010 Ifo housed 100,000 people in infrastructure built for 30,000, yet it remains a close-knit place. Amin made inquiries, and discovered her name was Farhiyo. She was 18 years old. She had been born in the camp and, like most, had never left.

Dadaab, in the local dialect, means “the rocky hard place”. It is a makeshift urban slum in the middle of Kenya’s baking hot northern desert, 70 miles from the border with Somalia. Unable to return to their war-ravaged country since its government collapsed in 1991 and forbidden from settling in Kenya proper, here nearly 400,000 Somalis have made for themselves the best home they can.

Trapped by the desert on all sides, their dreams of escape centre on the Horseed hotel: a restaurant made of corrugated iron sheets and wooden spars, the exterior of which is painted with exotic fruits unavailable inside. Every fortnight, lists of names are pasted on the walls, obscuring a mural of watermelons, chips and ice cream. These are the fortunate few selected by the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) to fill quotas for resettlement abroad, in North America, Australia or Europe.

Read the full Story on The Guardian



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