Djibouti: Adjusting to life in Markazi refugee camp
UNHCR, 30 Oct 2015
Two young Yemeni women who have developed a close friendship in Markazi camp recount how the conflict has turned their lives upside down. From university students with promising futures to camp dwellers, Khadija and Hannah (names changed to preserve privacy) try to rebuild their lives.
Khadija was in her second year of university, studying English when the war broke out. She and her family hoped that they would remain safe in their home in Aden, but in May 2015, the security situation deteriorated and electricity and water supplies were cut off from their homes. That was when the family decided to leave.
They came to Djibouti with many people on board a large Pakistani boat which had been carrying supplies to Yemen. After staying for 11 days at the transit centre at the port in Obock, the eight family members registered with UNHCR and were transferred to Markazi camp. This was their only option as did not have the means to rent a place to stay.
The family had been split while still in Yemen, with one of Khadija’s sisters fleeing to Somalia to live with their other sister who was married there.
In Obock the family’s five younger children go to Al Rahma School, run by Al Rahma charity. The school provides catch-up classes to Yemeni refugee children so that they can enter the local school system.
Khadija remains in touch with her family in Yemen and her sisters in Somalia. The Djibouti Red Crescent, supported by the International Committee of the Red Cross, provides a telephone service in the camp, where refugees may make a three-minute telephone call per day to a relative anywhere in the world. Khadija says her relatives tell her things have improved in Yemen. “My cousins always ask why I don’t go back home”, she adds.
Life in the camp is very difficult, from the unbearable heat to the general living conditions. She has one hope: to go back to Yemen. But for now, the family will remain in Djibouti, where they feel safe. In Markazi they have forged strong ties with three other Yemeni families that they met in Djibouti. The four families cook and eat together and generally live as one family. This is their way of coping with their difficult situation.
Refugees serve humanitarian agencies
She may have had a promising future once, but these days the future is not something Khadija wants to talk about. It is too dark, so she prefers to focus on the now. She says, ‘’for now I am fortunate to have been hired by the Lutheran World Federation, a partner of UNHCR, to work temporarily on child protection in the camp. The work takes my mind off my problems and gives me a sense of purpose”. But she does not know what will happen when her contract ends in five months’ time.
Khadija has become close friends with girls her own age from three other families. Like her, Hannah is also in her early 20s and had to abandon her university studies when she fled Yemen. Back in her country Hannah used to juggle her studies with a job at the Danish Refugee council. She also worked for three years in a shelter for the rehabilitation of women ex-prisoners as well as women and child victims of violence. That experience has come in handy, enabling her to get a temporary job in Markazi with the Norwegian Refugee Council. She promotes good hygiene practices in the camp and monitors sanitation facilities to ensure that repairs are done in a timely manner.
Of her future Hannah says, “It is difficult to see where things will go from here if the situation in Yemen does not improve. I really want to complete my business studies, do a master’s degree or even a PhD, and then revive my project”; for in Yemen the enterprising Hannah was also running a small business as an event planner.
Overall the two friends find life in the camp very challenging. Khadija is concerned about food, particularly the quality, and the difficulty of getting vegetables because you have to walk a long distance to town in severe temperatures to buy them. As the eldest in her family, she feels nearly as responsible for the family’s welfare as her father does. ‘’My father stays up all night watching over us, and sleeps during the day. In the past there were animals, including lots of monkeys, wandering into the camp”. Based on their request, a fence is now being built around the camp for their protection and the refugees feel safer.
UNHCR and its various partners provide protection, food, shelter, water, health care and other assistance to help refugees cope with their difficult circumstances. Khadija and Hannah have also shown that when the opportunity arises, refugees not only receive support from, but also can and do, give service to humanitarian organizations.