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Trump Travel Ban Forces Somalis To Remain At Kenya's Dadaab Camp


We're going to take you now to a place that is seemingly far away from the political fray in Washington, D.C. It is an enormous refugee camp in remote northeastern Kenya. But the U.S. debate over immigration has had an immediate and direct impact there. And let's talk about it with NPR's Eyder Peralta who is at the camp and joins us on the line.

And Eyder, tell us exactly where you are.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: So I'm in Dadaab, which is the largest refugee camp in the world. There's about 280,000 - mostly Somali - refugees here. And the U.N. Refugee Agency, which runs the camp, says that 26,000 of them were in the process of applying for refugee status in the United States. And now, of course, all that has stopped because of the executive action taken by President Trump. I've been here talking to people for several days now, and here's what I heard.


PERALTA: The streets of Dadaab are crowded with people and cars. You find refugees selling goats and shaving ice.


PERALTA: Dadaab is basically a mega village. The Somali refugees sell pots and pans and make colorful headscarves on manual sewing machines.


PERALTA: In one of those stores, I find a group of men sitting on a carpet having an intense conversation. It is, of course, about President Trump. The elder man on the carpet, Khalif Abdi Nur (ph), says talking about Trump has become a pastime in the camp.

KHALIF ABDI NUR: (Speaking Somali).

PERALTA: He can't believe, he says, that a First-World president would resort to targeting people because of their faith. Nur and his family were directly affected by President Trump's orders. They were to be settled in the United States. They had been waiting for nine years. And then last month, they were told to get ready to go. They got tested for TB and got treated for parasites. They sold things, their house and their shop, to buy rolling suitcases. And then they let themselves start dreaming about Texas, which would be their new home.

NUR: (Through interpreter) I felt like I'll wear the cowboy hat (laughter).

PERALTA: Even though Texas is mostly heat, he imagined a cold place with snow, far away from the arid landscape Dadaab.

NUR: (Through interpreter) Only to be left in the dust and the sand.

PERALTA: He says he jokes, but he's actually really sad.

His wife, Hallima Bulle, is sitting just across the room and cuts in.

HALLIMA BULLE: (Speaking Somali).

PERALTA: She says she dreamed of an America where they could be normal people, where they wouldn't have to be fed by an aid group, a place where they could have the ability to make their own fate.


PERALTA: Across the camp and away from the bustle of the market, I meet Carlos Tresfeya. He's Ethiopian. And his wife, Zemzem Siraji, is Somali. They've also spent nine years waiting to be resettled to the United States. They were done with their fingerprints and their interviews and were just waiting for a flight out. Now they don't know what their fate will be.

CARLOS TRESFEYA: Only God and Trump knows. Our hope is just in their hand - first to God, second to Trump.

PERALTA: I ask him if any of this makes him angry.

TRESFEYA: What will I bring if just I am angry? I don't have any power. I'm voiceless.

PERALTA: Tresfeya asks me if I want to meet his children, so we walk across the camp. Each house is surrounded by a fence made of braided twigs, like something a bird would build.

TRESFEYA: This is my place.

PERALTA: Tresfeya has five kids. All his work, all his hope, he says, is for them.

TRESFEYA: For example, this guy.

PERALTA: He points at Fouez, his 16-year-old.

TRESFEYA: I'm expecting a lot from him. He's going to do something. He always - he repairs the radio. He sets satellite dish, repair some mobile, yeah - at this age.

PERALTA: A smart kid.


PERALTA: But he knows that here in Dadaab, his kids won't become something. All five of them, he says, can't go to school at the camp because they're picked on. They have a Christian dad and a Muslim mom, so they're ostracized. And if they go back to Ethiopia or Somalia...

TRESFEYA: Even more - our life will be more in danger.


TRESFEYA: At risk.

PERALTA: So you hope to find a home that that will accept you?

TRESFEYA: We hope - we will accept any hope, good hope.

PERALTA: Trefeya says his hope now is that President Trump changes his mind.

GREENE: That's the voice of NPR's Eyder Peralta who is in Kenya in the largest refugee camp in the world. Eyder is still on the line. And Eyder, we have President Trump saying he wants to ban people from certain countries, including Somalia. We have the refugee program that is suspended. These things, though, could be temporary, the president says, if he can come to a place where he feels good about the vetting process. So is this just - it's total uncertainty now there?

PERALTA: Yeah. I mean, everyone I spoke to seems to be at a loss. That was the case even with the head of operations here for the U.N., Jean Bosco Rushatsi. This is what he had to say.

JEAN BOSCO RUSHATSI: It is really devastating for some. But, you know, they have to face it. That's unfortunate, but there is no alternative solution right away.

PERALTA: Rushatsi says he's worried that more is coming from the Trump administration. The White House has been talking about cutting U.S. contributions to the U.N. and other multilateral organizations. And so Rushatsi's not sure where that would leave the camp. It's worth noting that the U.N. has already cut rations here by half because of a tough budget.

GREENE: OK. NPR's Eyder Peralta, speaking to us from the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

Eyder, thanks.

PERALTA: Thank you, David Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.