Along the Djibouti border
Six days ago, Deka Mohamed Idou was in a different world. She had a house, a family. She had somehow survived 20 years of civil war in the capital.
Then, in a blur, her life fell apart. A clash between al-Shabab and the government forces erupted in her neighborhood. In the chaos, she was separated from her husband and three of their children. With their two other kids, she fled Mogadishu.
Along the way, she was robbed. She had to borrow $60, the cost of coming from Galkayo to this forlorn border. Two months pregnant, in a rattletrap minibus on a bumpy road, she constantly worried that she would lose her baby.
Now, on the edge of a foreign land, she worried as much about what she left behind as what lay ahead.
Idou looked down the road, at the Djiboutian border police, at the U.N. refugee workers preparing to register her, at the white gate that would open a new life for her family. Soon, they will be transported to Ali Addeh, a desert camp across the border in Djibouti.
"How will they treat us there?" Idou asked.
Ali Addeh camp, Djibouti
A bazooka shell struck Aisha Mohammed Abdi's house in Mogadishu, killing her uncle. She fled the capital with her husband and five children. Two died of hunger along the way. Days later, they arrived in Djibouti.
"I dreamed of a better life," she recalled.
That was 20 years ago.
She still lives in this camp, hundreds of miles from the capital, on a barren, oatmeal-colored landscape ringed by tan mountains. The Somalis call it "Tora Bora" because the region resembles Afghanistan. This is where Djibouti's government, worried that newcomers would take jobs away from its citizens, sends Somali and Ethiopian refugees The U.N. rations of wheat flour, oil, lentils and sugar are not enough to feed Abdi's family. There is also a shortage of water. Every day, Abdi walks six miles to fetch wood. She sells most of it; the rest is for cooking and heating their tent. There is no electricity.
Rapists are here, too. Two policemen guard the camp of 14,000 refugees. Darkness is the rapists' accomplice.
"Women can't identify their abusers," said Ayan Mohammed, a Djiboutian social worker. "Everyone is afraid."
Abdi once dreamed of being resettled to another country. No longer. Only 64 Somalis left for the United States and other Western countries this year, less than half of 1 percent of the Somali refugees living in Djibouti.
She once dreamed of returning home. No longer.
"It is worse in Mogadishu now than when I left," she said.
Today, she no longer dreams.
"I have been a refugee for 20 years," said Abdi. "Whether I stay longer here or leave for another place, only God knows. But I have lost all hope."