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Farrow Draws Attention To Plight Of African Refugees

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In the Horn of Africa, 12 million people are in need of food aid because of the drought. The people of Somalia, facing both famine and war, are some of the hardest hit.

Many of those fleeing Somalia seek refuge in the southwest, at Kenya's giant Dadaab refugee camp. The settlement is about 50 miles from Kenya's border with Somalia. There are almost half a million Somalis in the camp – with more arriving every day.

In recent weeks, high-profile international visitors have paraded through the dusty camps. The latest is actress and activist Mia Farrow. She's a goodwill ambassador for the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and traveled to Dadaab, to show her solidarity with the refugees and to spread the word about their suffering.

School's out in Dadaab, so armed with a black notebook and a camera, Farrow's first stop is meeting with the children. Camp officials say they admitted about 1,500 in the last 3-4 months. The recent influx of children, which arrived from Somalia, is acclimatizing to refugee life in Kenya and preparing for school ahead of the new term beginning next month.

From the school, it's off to the Ifo Reception Center at one of the camps. At the center, the new Somali refugees are given wrist bands and a three-week supply of food.

"[What do you do] if you see a child that's looking very thin, for instance?" Farrow asks Mehreen Afzal the protection officer for the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) at Ifo.

Afzal says there is a medical screening unit that is set up to help those that need immediate attention.

"The idea is to capture all those that are severely malnourished and to send them immediately to the hospital," Afzal says.

Ifo Hospital is full of severely-malnourished children that have withered down to skin and bones. Farrow, who is accompanied by her own daughter, Quincy, expresses her sorrow to Sadumo Salad, a mother who has lived through war, the Islamist insurgency and drought in Somalia.

"The lady was saying, 'if there could be rain, she would go home," Farrow says. "She says [she] can deal with the violence ... if only there would be rain. And so she came with her children."

Like many in the camp, Salad is praying for rain.

Farrow says she will ask the world not to forget the people suffering drought and famine in the Horn of Africa.

"People seem dazed because of the long walk and the reasons that they were forced to leave," she says. "[They left] because their cattle died, because their crops failed [and] because no rain was coming."

Farrow says many of the refugees told her they were terrified of the bombs, but some also said they would return to Somalia if the rains would come.

"They want rain and then they want peace," she says. "Those are very, very basic requests."

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

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