Report: Serious Communications Gaps at Camps for Somali Refugees are Putting Lives at Risk

September 15, 2011
Serious communication gaps between the humanitarian sector and refugees in Dadaab, Kenya, are increasing refugee suffering and putting lives at risk, a new joint assessment report led by Internews released today concludes.

Dadaab, the largest refugee camp complex in the world, is home to hundreds of thousands fleeing the drought in Somalia – people who are being put further at risk because of information gaps that are hampering the aid response. “Despite important efforts from individual agencies, current communication strategies for affected communities are not working as effectively as they could, and critical coordination needs to be improved,” says the report, “Dadaab, Kenya: Humanitarian Communications and Information Needs Assessment Among Refugees in the Camps.” View a video from the report.

The assessment surveyed over 600 refugees and shows that large numbers of displaced Somalis don’t have the information they need to access basic aid: More than 70 percent of newly-arrived refugees say they lack information on how to register for aid and similar numbers say they need information on how to locate missing family members. High figures are also recorded for lack of information on how to access health care how to access shelter, how to communicate with family outside the camps and more.

Equally important, almost three-quarters of new arrivals surveyed, and around a third of long-term residents, say they have never been able to voice their concerns or ask questions to aid providers or the government.

The report finds that most communications at the camp level happen verbally through pre-established camp administration and other networks among social groups. However, the majority of those surveyed state a lack of trust in these channels, and instead prefer to communicate through, and place their trust in, radio, mobile phones and friends or family.

Radio is by far the most popular source of general information for both new arrivals and long-term refugees, yet there is no specific regular broadcast for or about Dadaab, which means only general news and information can be accessed. Critically, humanitarian workers, government officials, along with army and police, rank the lowest as sources of information for refugees, both for new arrivals and long-term residents, according to the report.

While a small number of humanitarian organizations are carrying out positive communications initiatives, the findings of this report suggest that there is an important need for resources, personnel, and specific coordination mechanisms to effectively and systematically communicate with refugee communities and counter information and feedback gaps to the scale needed.

The report makes several recommendations, including: conducting workshops on communications for humanitarian organizations; establishing a humanitarian communications officer in Dadaab for communicating with affected populations; increasing support to Star FM, the main Kenyan broadcaster in Somali language, for broadcasting local humanitarian information; and establishing a communications research hub and a media training center for both host and refugee communities. It is important to note that the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) has already set up an Information Dissemination Group to specifically look into the communications needs of local communities “in the light of the current emergency and identified gaps by Internews’ assessment” (page 11).

Originally created in the early 1990s, Dadaab’s three camps were designed to host 90,000 people, most fleeing from conflict in Somalia. Many have now been born and raised in the camps, whose population now tops 440,000, with more than 70,000 of those arriving in the last two months.

Watch the video report.

Photos are available to accompany coverage, with attribution to Meridith Kohut / Internews.
Download the photos:
Password: INTERNEWS (all caps)

The assessment was led by Internews and conducted with Radio Ergo/International Media Support (IMS) and Star FM of Kenya with support from the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC). It was funded by The John D. & Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation and The Shelley & Donald Rubin Foundation. IMS also contributed financially and with staff assistance. NRC provided generous logistical support and human resources on the ground.

Communication Is Aid - Watch this 2-minute animation
and see it for yourself.

About the Assessment Team

About Internews: Internews is an international media development organization established in 1982. Its mission is to empower local media worldwide to provide people with the news and information that they need, the ability to connect, and the means to make their voices heard.

About Radio Ergo: Radio Ergo, run by IMS Productions Aps, produces one-hour daily broadcasts of original humanitarian news and information that are heard across Somalia and the region on shortwave.

About IMS: IMS is an international non-profit organization working to support local media in countries affected by armed conflict, human insecurity and political transition.

About Star FM: Star FM is a well-established Kenyan-based radio station that broadcasts in Somali, with some material also in Swahili and English. Star FM describes itself as a “pioneering radio” and has worked to bring the generally marginalized Somali communities into the mainstream of media coverage.

With Support From

About NRC: NRC is an independent, humanitarian non-governmental organization that provides assistance, protection and durable solutions to refugees and internally displaced persons (IDPs) worldwide. NRC has been active in Somalia since 2004 and Kenya since 2007.