..Come into my world.” Teenage refugee – Bilan Photos by Ariadne Kypriaki Reported by Kristin Lewis – Scholastic Magazine No one plans to become a refugee—to flee your home because your life is in danger. Yet today, there are 25.9 million refugees, more than the world has seen in nearly a century.There are many reasons a person might become a refugee.Maybe you live in a country torn apart by war, and your house was bombed to rubble.Maybe you live in a place where you and your family are being attacked for your religious beliefs.Maybe you live in a region plagued by famine, and you are facing starvation.Or maybe you are like 15-year-old Bilan [BEE-lawn], and you were chased from your home by violence. Not so long ago, Bilan was a typical kid. She and her family lived in a comfortable home in Mogadishu, Somalia—a country in East Africa. She went to school and had many friends. With her twinkling eyes and shy smile, Bilan seems like someone who would be your friend too.But life in Somalia was difficult—and dangerous. After years of conflict, the government collapsed in 1991. Since then, civil war has unleashed seemingly endless waves of violence. Hotels, restaurants, and homes have been bombed. Factories have been looted. Schools have been closed.At the same time, widespread droughts have swept across Somalia. The droughts have choked crops, killed off livestock, and made hunger a fact of life. Famine has killed 260,000 Somali men, women, and children—and left many more sick and starving.In desperation, hundreds of thousands of Somalis have fled across the border into neighboring countries like Kenya and Ethiopia.And four years ago, Bilan became one of them.She still remembers when her mother told her that they had to leave, that they were going to Ethiopia, where they could be safe.Where will we live? Bilan worried. What will become of us?The journey out of Somalia took Bilan and her family about 10 days. So much was left behind: treasured photographs, favorite clothes, beloved books. They crossed over the border into Ethiopia with little more than the clothes they were wearing. Life in the Camp After Bilan and her family crossed the border, they were taken to the Kobe refugee camp. This camp is one of five set up by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in the southern region of Ethiopia. Together, these camps serve hundreds of thousands of refugees.The camps are all located in a large, remote area. But despite its isolation, the Kobe camp is a hive of activity. Nearly 50,000 people live there. The camp is like a sprawling town, with tidy rows of bamboo shelters separated by wide dirt streets.Around the world, there are more than 100 refugee camps. Each one is different. Each faces unique challenges. But every camp has the same basic purpose: to provide food, medicine, housing, and protection to refugees.Life in these camps can be grim, with families crowding into tents that boil in summer and freeze in winter. There may be shortages of food, water, and power, or inadequate bathroom facilities. Basic supplies, like toothpaste and shoes, may be hard to get. Not all refugee camps have schools, and those that do may not have enough teachers or books. Outbreaks of violence and disease are constant threats. Sometimes there isn’t enough medicine for everyone who needs it.A refugee camp is certainly not a place where most people would choose to live. But the Kobe camp in Ethiopia does have much to offer. It’s clean, it’s well organized, and it has the essentials: food, water, durable shelters, and a health clinic. Six schools serve about 6,200 students. In the bustling market, refugees can shop for everything from soaps, perfumes, and colorful fabrics to delicious samosas, goat meat, and pasta. There is also a place to get cell phones repaired.Bilan remembers that when she first arrived at the Kobe camp, she was struck by how different her life was going to be. She would no longer live in a home in a big city. She would live in a small shelter in the middle of a vast and empty desert. She would no longer have running water either. Instead, she would have to lug water from the camp’s well, a time-consuming and arduous chore. She would also have to fetch firewood for cooking, trekking far outside the relative safety of the camp—and that frightened her. It still frightens her today.But early on, Bilan made a choice. She decided to accept her new life—and to make the best of it.“I had to adapt,” she says simply.World of UncertaintyRefugees living in camps may be stuck there for many years, trapped in a world of uncertainty. In some countries, refugees may not be able to legally work or get the identification documents they need to rent an apartment, open a bank account, or drive a car. All they can do is wait to be resettled or to go home.And that wait can be a long one: months, years, even decades. Some refugees will spend the rest of their lives in a camp. please use this 🙂
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