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Somali Refugees Hang on to Hope in Camps

A region flooded with weapons and beleaguered by porous borders, endemic poverty and government corruption, the Horn of Africa poses a persistent terrorist threat.
Melody Kokoszka, NPR
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A region flooded with weapons and beleaguered by porous borders, endemic poverty and government corruption, the Horn of Africa poses a persistent terrorist threat.

A series of camps in Kenya house 140,000 refugees from civil war and deprivation in their native Somalia. There is fear that extremist Islamist groups will find recruits amid the stagnant life in the camps.

After 13 years, the camps have the trappings of permanence in what is supposed to be temporary shelter. Life there is difficult at best, and the majority of refugees say they don't really want to return to the violence of Somalia, even if it were an option.

But the refugees face food and water shortages, overcrowding and malaria — a dangerous mix, says 22-year-old refugee Nour Abduli. "A hungry man is always an evil source," he says. "They are being forced to accept whatever situation that will give them a living."

That situation, some camp administrators say, includes impoverished refugees recruited by extremist groups, possibly including groups with ideological allegiance to al Qaeda or other terrorists.

There is no evidence organized militant groups are operating in the camps. But Western intelligence and aid groups report that homegrown militant Islamist groups, including at least one group harboring members of al Qaeda's East Africa cell, are operating in and out of Somalia.

Eric Westervelt continues a series on the threat of terrorism in the Horn of Africa.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric Westervelt is a San Francisco-based correspondent for NPR's National Desk. He has reported on major events for the network from wars and revolutions in the Middle East and North Africa to historic wildfires and terrorist attacks in the U.S.