Arete’s Stories: Refugees add far more to society than is often reported, by Jonathan Clayton

Photo: Karel Prinsloo/Unicef Somalia/ Arete. Refugee Ideeja at a support group held by UNICEF near her home in an IDP camp on the beach in Puntland, Somalia. ideeja traveled to Marere to be smuggled out by boat to Yemen. On her first night before departure at the port a woman was raped in their boat by a drunk smuggler. She got scared and left and walked all the way back to Bossaso. As the bitter conflict in Yemen grinds on and the humanitarian situation there continues to deteriorate, conditions facing the almost 280,000 refugees in-country are worsening and their needs and vulnerabilities are growing by the day.

Every 60 seconds, 20 people leave everything behind to escape war, persecution or terror. Whether refugees or asylum seekers, each and every one of these brave people are simply seeking safety and security.

The narrative often delivered by the mainstream media around refugees, strips them of their previous successes and their ambitions for the future. Portraying them as helpless; whilst, conversely, depicting the country that offers them a home as a charitable saviour.

In this short blog, Arete journalist and celebrated correspondent Jonathan Clayton shares a selection of his experiences gained from documenting refugee stories for over 30 years. Stories of the amazing people he has met and how, contrary to popular depiction, refugees very often enrich and add value to the countries and cultures they become a part of.

Jonathan Clayton is the former East Africa Bureau Chief of Reuters news agency and from 2002–14 was The Times Africa correspondent. He also covered the first-ever refugee Olympic team at the 2016 Rio games for the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR.

“I first met *Halima in the early 1990s in the Juba Valley, Somalia — one of the many casualties of the brutal inter-clan warfare which was then tearing the country apart.

A few years later, I met her again in a refugee camp in Kenya. She was still not 30, but in her short life had suffered more pain and hardship than most people can ever possibly imagine.

Dreadful things had happened to her. However, she never lost hope. She was always cheerful and bubbling with energy.

Photo: Kate Holt/ Arete. A mother walks with her children through a dust storm to their newly erected tent in the new arrivals area of Dagehaley camp, one of three camps that make up the Dadaab refugee camp in Dadaab, northeastern Kenya.

Over a sweet tea, we quickly caught up. Again she surprised me. She excitedly told me she was off to Dallas, Texas, in a few months along with her four children. She had never slept on a bed, never used a flush toilet, nor a fridge, nor a washing machine. Pointing at the sky, she told me her greatest fear was flying. Instead, it turned out to be the airport elevator.

A year later, we met in Dallas — a surreal experience. She was working full-time as a cleaner at Wallmart and living in a very decent, if small, apartment — two bedrooms shared by the kids, her and her husband on a pull-out sofa bed. Juggling mobile phone calls from family and friends, she was the very image of a busy suburban American Mom.

The kids loved school. Her boys had excelled at basketball. Her daughter devoured her studies. All spoke near-perfect English already. Halima worked hard as ever. Life was not easy, but people were friendly — most of the time. But she was happy.

Crucially, she told me that for the first time in her life she felt SAFE. She had also discovered “law” and was becoming a powerful advocate of women’s rights. “You know here, you cannot hit a woman!”, she told me. “NO, NO, NO.” It was an amazing transformation from the terrified, beaten and battered, young woman I had first met in the badlands of the lower Shebelle river.

Halima’s embrace of her new life — so wildly different to anything she could have ever dreamed about — challenged my own view of refugees. Like many others, until then, I thought they needed near-constant help and support. In fact, the vast majority only need, and want, an opportunity free from persecution, violence and conflict.

Photo: Karel Prinsloo/ WFP/ Arete. Somali refugees returning from Dadaab in Kenya, at a transit camp. The WFP is providing provision of unconditional food assistance to help those suffering from severe drought.

In more than 30 years of reporting for Reuters and The Times, much of it in Africa and the Balkans, I went on to meet and befriend many other refugees. Most shared one characteristic — determination. If ever they would be given a second chance, they would grasp it and make the most of it.

One of the greatest misconceptions of refugees is that they are a burden on society. The reality is mostly the complete opposite. Overwhelmingly, they enrich and better the societies which adopt them. Be it Albert Einstein or Steve Job’s father, a migrant from Syria, the roll call of history is undeniable. Can anyone imagine today without Apple, let alone the theory of relativity?

Photo: Kate Holt/ Opportunity International UK/ Arete. Kakule, a refugee from Beni in the DR Congo, accepts payment from a customer in his small shop which is next to his garden, where he grows food for his family in Nakivale Refugee Camp, Uganda. Nakivale is home to over 120,000 refugees from Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo Burundi and Somalia.

More recently, I think of Yazidi women now running Middle East food deliveries in Antwerp, a tailor from Damascus stitching sails for wealthy yacht owners in Kiel, Germany, a Syrian architect now running a fashion business in Milan. Then there is Nakout, a Ugandan abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army. She escaped after 14 years as a slave. She now lives in Finland, where she teaches English to other African refugees.

These are the faces behind the statistics. Their stories are powerful, their contributions to society immense. Unfortunately, the true picture is often obscured by right-wing and xenophobic narratives rooted in unfounded fear and propagated by fake news.

ARETE’s reporting of these issues offers a chance to redress that balance. Today, when figures show global displacement increasing for the 9th year in a row, this is more necessary than ever before.”

*Name changed for protection purposes

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Preventing Famine is a Choice

Photo: Saiyna Bashir/ WFP/ Arete

Famine and the risk of famine are increasing across the world. Climate change, conflict and the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic have all worsened hunger and food insecurity for some of the most vulnerable communities across the globe.

Thirty-four million people around the world are currently experiencing extreme levels of hunger and malnutrition. Without immediate help, the slightest disruption to their food chain could mean the onset of famine.

At the G7 Summit this June, world leaders will focus on this humanitarian crisis with a Famine Prevention panel. The United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) is calling on the global community to help raise awareness and encourage support for life-saving action in the lead up to this event.

Recently awarded the 2020 Nobel Peace Prize, WFP has received universal recognition for its efforts to combat hunger and for its contribution to bettering conditions for peace in areas affected by war.

Arete have been working with the World Food Programme for over twelve years in countries all over the world. Our photographers and writers have seen first-hand how their programmes save lives, and in our latest blog, we are drawing attention, through photography, to WFP’s #FightFamine initiative, which aims to encourage support for life-saving interventions.

Over a million of the world’s hungriest and most vulnerable people live in just nine countries — the Democratic Republic of Congo, Yemen, South Sudan, and Afghanistan — as well as, Sudan, Venezuela, Ethiopia, Haiti, and Nigeria. Without urgent action, famine could soon become a reality for at least two of these countries that are also dealing with internal conflicts: Yemen and South Sudan.

Here we showcase some of the World Food Programme’s extraordinary work:

Fight Hunger — Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)

Photographer: Fredrik Lerneryd
World Food Programme/ Arete

Despite being one of the largest countries in Africa and abundant with natural resources such as diamonds, gold, copper and cobalt, DRC remains one of the least developed countries in the African continent, ranking 175th of 189 countries on the 2020 Human Development Index.

DRC now has the largest hunger crisis in the world. Hunger and conflict fuel one another here, with armed groups and widespread civilian displacement prevailing in parts of the country for the past 25 years, all of which compound the deeply entrenched humanitarian challenges.

Arete photographer, Fredrik Lerneryd, visited a town on Lake Tanganyika to document the vital work WFP is doing to support those suffering from moderate acute malnutrition.

Evariste, who is suffering from malnutrition has his arm measured while sitting on the lap of his mother Furaha at a clinic in the Democratic Republic of Congo. Furaha lives in the province of Tanganyika with her four children and husband.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the school Furaha worked for stopped paying her, and at the same time food prices went up. With only her husband’s salary, the family had to reduce the amount of food they ate. This caused Evariste to become malnourished, but he is receiving ready-to-use supplementary food for the treatment of malnutrition from a local clinic supported by WFP and is on the way to recovery.

WFP’s response in the Democratic Republic of Congo includes in-kind food and cash distributions for the most vulnerable, the treatment and prevention of malnutrition among children and women, and hot meals for school children.

Faida who can be seen sorting beans in Kasheke is a member of the COOPANG cooperative formed by 28 Farmers Organisations and supported by WFP.

A farmer in South Kivu, Furaha also benefited from a joint WFP-FAO resilience initiative in DRC and can be seen here arranging produce in her shop. After attending a literacy training programme supported by WFP, Furaha became the president of her local savings and loans association and has grown her shop into a successful business.

WFP Sudan

Photographer: Ed Ram
World Food Programme/ Arete

Across Sudan, 9.6 million people required humanitarian support in 2020. Of those, 6.2 million are food insecure, according to the Sudan Humanitarian Response Plan. High inflation has made matters worse, with people unable to afford basic food items. An average local food basket takes up at least 75 percent of monthly household income.

Sudan also faces persistently high levels of acute malnutrition, along with wasting, a low weight for a child’s height, and stunting, a low height for a child’s weight, all of which constitute a significant public health problem About 2.7 million children in Sudan suffer from wasting annually, with approximately 522,000 suffering from severe acute malnutrition.

Arete photographer, Ed Ram, was in Sudan to document the influx of thousands of refugees from the Tigray region of Ethiopia who are struggling to survive on what limited resources there are.

Ram documented the support given by WFP to tens of thousands of Ethiopian refugees in the Um Rakuba settlement.

World Food Programme (WFP) distributes food to refugees coming from the Tigray region in Um Rakuba refugee camp in eastern Sudan.

WFP continues to support around 57,000 refugees in the four refugee camps, settlements, or reception centres in Sudan, who have fled violent conflict in the Tigray region of Ethiopia — by offering monthly food rations, providing food for hot meals for new arrivals, nutrition support, and logistical support to the humanitarian community. The United Nations refugee agency says about 63,000 people have fled Ethiopia’s embattled Tigray region into neighbouring Sudan since November 2020.

Three children sit eating rice on the floor of a temporary shelter in Um Rakuba refugee camp in eastern Sudan.

WFP Nigeria

Photographer: Damilola Onafuwa
World Food Programme/ Arete

With over 182 million people, Nigeria is the most populated country in Africa and the seventh-largest in the world. The annual growth rate of the population is approximately 2.7 per cent, and more than half the population are under 30 years of age.

Nigeria is the 10th largest producer of crude oil in the world and achieved lower-middle-income status in 2014. However, conflict in the northeast has displaced 1.7 million people and left another 8.7 million in need of humanitarian assistance in Borno, Adamawa, and Yobe states. Over three million of them are in Borno State, the epicentre of the insurgency.

Damilola Onafuwa visited Yobe State on assignment for WFP and met many families fleeing from armed insurgents.

Sadiya and her 10-month-old daughter, Ruqayyah sit in front of their home in Yobe State, Nigeria. WFP Nigeria continues their famine prevention work by offering child malnutrition programmes that focus on children who suffer from moderate acute malnutrition (MAM).

The mother of 15 children, Amina, receives a food parcel at a Food Distribution Point in Yobe State Nigeria. “I lost everything and spent three days on the road while fleeing,” she says.

Photographer: Siegfried Madola
World Food Programme/ Arete

At the height of the annual hunger season from June to August, some 6.8 million people in northern Nigeria will not know where their next meal will come from.

According to a new assessment, conflict is spreading from the northeast to the northwest — engulfing the entire north of Nigeria.

Camps have been set up, such as this one in Zamfara State, northwestern Nigeria, to shelter internally displaced people.

In this photo taken by Siegfried Madola, a woman holds up her prepaid card from WFP, which will enable her to buy food and vital supplies.

WFP Somalia

Photographer: Ismail Taxta
World Food Programme/ Arete

Somalia was gripped by famine in 2011. Since then, a combination of improved early warning measures, donor mobilization and a sustained, large-scale humanitarian response from both government and partners have resulted in gradual improvements to the food security situation.

Now, however, the combined impacts of COVID-19 and desert locust infestations, coupled with insecurity, political tension and recurrent climatic shocks such as flooding and drought, threaten to undo this recovery. Nearly half the population, some 5.6 million people, are currently unable to access adequate nutritious food. Of those, 2.7 million people are expected to face ‘crisis’ level food insecurity or worse by June 2021.

Climate shocks pose continual risks to crop production and to livestock, which increases unemployment and drives up prices — compounding a high reliance on food imports and threatening access to food for low-income families.

Arete photographer Ismail Taxta documented how WFP Somalia is supporting the provision of school meals across Mogadishu — part of a broader WFP response to meet urgent food and nutrition needs, while also supporting Somalia in building longer-term resilience and food security. Hundreds of thousands of children receive two nutritious meals every day, which means they can concentrate on their studies and not feel hungry. These meals also provide a safety net for poor families, which might otherwise struggle to feed their children; and are entirely sourced from local producers and retailers, strengthening local economies and helping communities to resist shocks.

A child holds up her lunch at a school in Mogadishu, Somalia. WFP Somalia continues to support the provision of school meals and quality kitchen facilities in schools across Somalia.

Students eat lunch at a school in Mogadishu, Somalia.

Saabirin says,”I love eating meals at school. Today my classmates and I are talking about hot meals because the change to hot meals this week has made us very happy, I’d like to study at this school until I grow up. In the future, I would like to be a doctor.”

WFP needs to raise $5B US Dollars in 2021 to avert famine and meet the urgent food and nutritional requirements of those most at risk.

Donate and learn more here: