Mire is 23 years old and the only home he knows is the small plot in Dagahaley, one of the three refugee camps in Dadaab, northern Kenya. He fled Somalia with his mother when he was only six years old, and arrived in Dadaab when he was eight. His elder brother, who was two years older, was separated from the family and was reportedly killed in the inter-clan fighting that plagued the country.
Mire is now his family's sole breadwinner, as his father died in the camp four years ago. He works as a social worker and interpreter for the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) where he earns between $50 and $60 a month. Mire’s income supplements the food rations, which he says are often not enough.
‘Life here is not easy, but it is better than back home’, he says. He cites the lack of adequate sanitation, and the scarcity of water and food as the main problems he has had to cope with in Dadaab. ‘Social amenities are inadequate, and the population keeps increasing.’
‘In Somalia, my mother worked as a nurse and my father was a banker. We had a good home, and led a normal life, but we lost all that and now we are completely dependent on aid’.
Every day, Mire wakes up with hope that this could be the day the UNHCR delivers the good news - that he and his family have found a new home in a third country.
Asked whether he would like to go back to Somalia, Mire is pessimistic. ‘I don’t think Somalia will ever be peaceful; the fighting will never stop. I hope that my mother and my younger brother and sister will be resettled in Canada.’
Mire dreams of becoming a journalist, so that he can highlight the suffering of innocent people in conflict situations. He refuses to let go of the belief that he can have a better life.
The European Commission is working with aid agencies in Dadaab to improve the living conditions of the burgeoning population. Water and sanitation are major priorities. The water supply system was constructed 19 years ago as a temporary measure to serve a third of the current population. Today, the camps are home to over 289,000 people. The taps are located away from the supply tanks so water only trickles from them. Families wait for as long as five hours to fetch one 20-litre jerry can of water.
So far during 2009, the Commission has allocated around €11 million (US$15.4 million) for food assistance, water, and sanitation projects. This includes €3 million ($4.2 million) to renovate the water system and construct sanitation facilities - including 5,000 more toilets. Providing adequate water and sanitation is vital to prevent a major health catastrophe.