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Kenya's Somali Refugees Face Uncertain Future After Trump Order


The largest refugee camp in the world is in Kenya, and so people there have very personal reactions to President Trump's freeze on America's refugee program. More than 280,000 mostly Somali refugees live in the Dadaab camp in Kenya's northeast. Thousands of them have applied for refuge in the U.S. Hundreds had been approved and were days away from starting their new lives when Trump issued his executive order.

NPR's Eyder Peralta is in Dadaab camp and joins us now. Eyder, first just describe what it looks like there. What is Dadaab like?

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: It's really massive. So it sits northeast Kenya just along the border with Somalia, and it's really not what you would think when you think about a refugee camp because parts of it look like a big village. You know, there are stores and beauty parlors and banks.

And yeah, some of the refugees have been here since 1992 when the camp first opened. But the situation in Somalia hasn't gotten any better. They've had droughts and floods and violence. So Dadaab is still the largest refugee camp in the world.

SHAPIRO: As we said, hundreds of people in the camp had been approved to come to the U.S. as refugees when Trump issued this order. Tell us about somebody you met there who was caught up in this process.

PERALTA: Yeah, you know, I met a man called Abdi Ali Abdi and his family. I also met his family. And they had actually already been given a date to fly to Nairobi. And he says that he got here as soon as the camp opened in 1992, and he thought he was finally getting out. They were supposed to leave in mid-February, so they started selling everything. And then Trump issued the executive order, and now they don't know what to do.

SHAPIRO: What about refugees who are not actively involved in the refugee resettlement process? Are they for the most part aware of Trump's order? What's the sentiment?

PERALTA: Yeah, I mean everybody here is talking about it. I mean they follow the news especially on this topic. But the sense I got here was more of resignation. Just an example - I met Carlos Trisfia right outside a little market where refugees gather to talk about politics. He's Ethiopian, but his wife is Somali. They met here at the camp, and he says they were picked to go to the United States back in 2009. So he thought he was really at the end of this long journey. He was waiting for a flight, and then Trump issued the order. And I want you to listen to this exchange I had with him.

So if I were in your position, I would probably feel really angry.

CARLOS TRISFIA: What will I bring if just I'm angry? I don't have any power. I'm voiceless. I'm voiceless, yeah.

PERALTA: Trisfia says he's not going to leave his wife and kids behind. He could because he's Ethiopian and not part of the ban. But he says his fate is now in the hands of God and President Trump.

SHAPIRO: That's NPR's Eyder Peralta speaking with us from the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab in northeastern Kenya. Thanks, Eyder.

PERALTA: Thank you, Ari.

(SOUNDBITE OF BEACH HOUSE SONG, "MYTH") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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