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Albinos face attacks and rejection in Somali refugee camps in Dadaab

Mohamed Abdullahi Ali left his home in Mogadishu four years ago and crossed to Kenya, hoping to find a safer and happier life in the refugee camps in Dadaab.

Mohamed Abdullahi Ali left his home in Mogadishu four years ago and crossed to Kenya, hoping to find a safer and happier life in the refugee camps in Dadaab.

As an albino, life had been fraught with nightmarish experiences of stigma, discrimination, and violence against him.

“I moved out of Banaadir region in 2015 because life was very difficult. I decided to come here and become a refugee in the hope of getting a better life,” Ali told Radio Ergo.

Ali said he faced rejection, discrimination, despair, and loneliness that came with being born with albinism, a congenital condition characterised by absence of pigment in the skin and hair.

But Dadaab did not prove to offer the protection he needed.

When he enrolled in school in 2016, more than 20 children from his class transferred to other schools for fear of being infected – a common misunderstanding that albinism is a contagious disease.

“There are those who know and understand what albinism is and then we have another group of people who have no knowledge at all about,” said Ali. “Children insult me and throw stones at me.”

“I moved from one school to another because of the discrimination I was subjected to. I remember when a classmate lit a match and threw it in my pocket. I blew it out in time and did not react.”

On one occasion he was chased by a man wielding a knife.

“After I left school for break, a man shouting ‘kill the white man’ chased me. I ran very fast and luckily was saved by some good Samaritans,” he said.

Ali, who reached class seven in Bidii Academy, has now dropped out of school because he cannot bear how he is treated whenever he goes outside.

“I decided to stay at home and let my dream of education die,” he told Radio Ergo.

About 10 people are living with the condition in Dadaab camp, according to the chairperson of the Association of People with Albinism in the camp, Abdullahi Ali Hassan.

Abdullahi said those with albinism have been denied access to boreholes, food distribution centres, hospital, and schools.

“We cannot get our basic needs. We are discriminated by the public. According to them, you look different so people do not want us to come close to them. They do not allow us to share taps and we cannot even line up in same queue with them during food distributions,” he said.

Like Ali, Abdullahi expressed concern over constant attacks against them, saying he could not go to public places as he feels so insecure.

“Harassment is becoming the norm. Whether you are in the market or school, you will meet with people discriminating against you. In January, while I was walking in the town, children started belting stones at me and I sustained injuries,” he said.

Sixteen years ago, the marriage of Farhiya Hassan Mohamed in Dhagahley camp in Dadaab ended after she gave birth to a girl with albinism.

Farhiya has been struggling to bring up her daughter, Hawo Adan Mursal, as the father denied any support accusing her of giving to birth to a cursed child.

“Her father divorced me just six months after I gave birth to Hawo fearing that I would give birth to more children with same condition. So the discrimination against my daughter started from there,” said Farhiya.

She has seven other children from her second marriage. None of the seven have albinism.

Four years ago, Hawa dropped out of school because of the bullying.

“Now she stays at home. When I send her to fetch water from the tap outside there, people tell her to keep away and not infect them with the ‘disease’. Some called her the ugly white girl,” Farhiya said.

Albinos often experience eye problems and have a heightened risk of skin cancer.

Despite the low number of people with albinism, Somalis in Somalia and Dadaab still hold false beliefs, myths, and superstitions about people with albinism leading to their marginalization.

The UN Human Rights Council adopted a resolution in 2013 calling for the prevention of attacks and discrimination against persons with albinism and in the following year the UN General Assembly declared June 13 as International Albinism Awareness Day.

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