Praying with Refugees from Somalia
01 October 2011

A Somali refugee girl at the transit centre in Dollo Ado, Ethiopia. Until September thousands of refugees were camping here before being transferred to the newly established Helawen camp. (Angelika Mendes/Jesuit Refugee Service)
(Nairobi) October 1, 2011 – Since the beginning of the drought and hunger crisis in the Horn of Africa in July, tens of thousands of refugees have fled Somalia, most of them into Kenya and Ethiopia. They march for days or even weeks. Some do not survive the journey; others lose family members on the way or have to leave them behind.

"I walked one month to reach Addis (Ababa, the Ethiopian capital), my legs were swollen and I was too weak to speak when I finally arrived," says Idil, a 59-year-old Somali woman. "I had to leave my mother behind on the way, she was too old, she didn't make it and I had to save my own life. Now I worry about her," she adds.

In Nairobi, many new arrivals face discrimination by their own community, who hold them responsible for the present crisis in Somalia. In the north, the roads to the refugee camps are lined with dead animals, empty villages, people dying of starvation and graves. Those who reach the camps are dehydrated and malnourished; they receive their first nutritious meal in weeks. The majority of the refugees arriving in dusty and hot southeastern Ethiopia are children who, for most of the day, have nothing to do.

By Fr. Frido Pflueger, S.J.
Regional Director, Jesuit Refugee Service Eastern Africa


Reflections for prayer

I was deeply touched by the resilience of the Somali refugees when visiting the refugee camps of Dollo Ado in southeast Ethiopia a couple of weeks ago. Despite the hunger, the pain and the trauma they have experienced, they do not give up.

Seeing the graves along the road to the reception centre, the emaciated people and the thousands of children sitting in the dusty, windy and hot desert was one of the worst things I had ever seen in my life and it made me sad. And still, many of them, particularly the children, greeted me friendly and smiled at me.

It made me realise that, without having faith, this situation becomes easily unbearable. And I realised — and this seems very important to me — that all those we met are believers, who count on their faith and draw strength from their faith.

I traveled there just at the onset of Ramadan, the fasting month in Muslim tradition. And to my surprise, most of the refugees in the camps who had fled starvation in Somalia and were still weak, were fasting — because it is their religious tradition, it means a lot to them and it gives them strength.

It might sound strange, but I think that the faith of the Somali refugees helps them to handle this situation without giving up. Their faith gives them strength and resilience because faith always has to do with hope and confidence.

To see such deep faith raises the question in me whether we, in our secularised environment, would be able to face such a situation with the same resilience. What would be our source of resilience? Reflecting about this question, the Muslim refugees become our teachers.  

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Scripture for reading
Luke 6:17-23

And he came down with them and stood on a stretch of level ground. A great crowd of his disciples and a large number of the people from all Judea and Jerusalem and the coastal region of Tyre and Sidon came to hear him and to be healed of their diseases; and even those who were tormented by unclean spirits were cured. Everyone in the crowd sought to touch him because power came forth from him and healed them all.

And raising his eyes toward his disciples he said:

Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.

Blessed are you who are now hungry, for you will be satisfied.

Blessed are you who are now weeping, for you will laugh.

Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude and insult you, and denounce your name as evil on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice and leap for joy on that day! Behold, your reward will be great in heaven.