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Halima* was abducted in Somalia when she went to check on her husband who had been kidnapped. She was raped and tortured along with her then 12-year-old daughter. They are both currently being managed for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at MSF's mental health clinic in Dagahaley.
Dadaab refugee camp: 30 years in search of dignity
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Halima* moved to the camp with her family in 2008, fleeing violence that rocked Somalia then. They lived in the camp for seven years but had to return to Somalia when she heard that her husband had been taken captive by armed militants. The husband had returned to Somalia earlier to prepare for their return, which they had planned for, owing to the voluntary repatriation exercise that was ongoing.
“Some people who came back from Somalia told me that he had been taken captive. I had to take my family and go back. He had a nice building and was running a business,” she says.
They did not even stay a day when they were abducted by armed militants. “They took me and my children and locked us up for a month. They continuously tortured and raped me and my children,” she bursts into tears. “We were released after a month when our health had deteriorated, but we escaped then and returned to the camp.”
Living in the camp since then hasn’t been easy for her, as some people had come to the camp who knew about her ordeal and started speaking ill of her and her children. “People call me a prostitute and insult my children, I can’t easily associate with people,” she says.
She has had to move houses every few months, living in rental houses in the camp. Despite this, she says life must go on. “I still have to provide for my family,” she says. She volunteers for one of the organisations in the camp, creating awareness about torture, rape and early marriage. Being good at the culinary arts, she is also often engaged to prepare meals during weddings in the camp, which gets her some additional income.
For more than three years now, Halima is being managed for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) at the mental health clinic of MSF’s hospital in Dagahaley since she returned from Somalia. Her eldest daughter, now 16, is also goes for psychosocial support at the clinic. “It has been a struggle for Sowdo*,” Halima says of her eldest child, “she has never recovered from the trauma she faced then, and this has affected her daily life and even performance in school.”
Despite being 16, Sowdo is currently in the second grade, same as her eight-year-old sister, though she goes to a special school in the camp. “While in school she is just okay, but when she leaves, other children make fun of her, calling her foolish for being in Grade 2,” Halima says.
Halima heard of the plans to close the camp over the radio, news that she says bothered her for a while. “I don’t have any hope of going back to Somalia. When I hear that name, I picture my children in their graves and it breaks my heart,” she says. “I’d go anywhere else that they take me, but not Somalia.”
“I always think of positive things in my life and try not to dwell on the challenges I face in life,” she says of the challenges she faces in life.
Halima lives with five children in the camp, two who were born in the camp. Her youngest is eight and they all go to school in the camps. She heads the parents, teachers’ association (PTA) for the school where Sowdo goes to, a position of responsibility bestowed upon her for being resilient and shown good example as a parent.
She still doesn’t know what will become of her husband, but she hopes he will be released soon. She says they abductors demanded USD 3,000 to release him – an amount she is not able to raise.