Covid-19 fuels mental health crisis in Dadaab

Psychological consultations have risen from 505 to 766 in one year.

In Summary

•The number of attempted suicides in the camp is on the rise.

• Psycho-social consultations in Dadaab have jumped by more than 50 per cent from last year.

Somali refugees at the Ifo camp in Dadaab near the Kenya-Somalia border
Somali refugees at the Ifo camp in Dadaab near the Kenya-Somalia border
Image: /FILE

A mental health crisis is growing in Dadaab refugee complex.

Mental health experts say the number of attempted suicides is rising and psycho-social consultations have jumped by more than 50 per cent from last year.

"We are witnessing a dramatic deterioration in the mental health of camp residents. In Dagahaley, one of the three Daadab refugee camps, psychological consultations have risen from 505 to 766 in the period of one year," Doctors Without Borders organisation says.


In the same camp, five people have reportedly died by suicide in the past two months.  

Before Covid-19, many refugees in Dadaab were already frustrated with the lack of progress in finding durable solutions, the organisation says.

"Now they are faced with the new Covid-19 situation, where the meagre humanitarian assistance they depend on has been further reduced amid donor concerns of widening funding gaps," said Jeroen Matthys, Doctors Without Borders project coordinator for Dadaab.

In all the Kenyan refugee camps, cash and food transfers have reduced by between 10 and 30 per cent, with the World Food Programme cutting rations by 40 per cent. 

The cuts in food rations along with a lack of jobs and uncertainty about the future have created a new mental health crisis, according to mental experts.

Refugees live in despair, anxiety and fear amid the new uncertainties brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“Covid-19 has ended what little chance refugees had of escaping their degrading lives in the camps, compounding the mental distress for many who had nothing left but hope to cling to,” Matthys said.


He added, “We are seeing a groundswell of desperation in the camp.”


Kenya, which is among the top refugee host countries in Africa, has about 489,000 refugees and 18,500 stateless persons, according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. 

About 50 per cent of the refugees reside in the Dadaab refugee camp in Garissa county.

Humanitarian organisations have called on the government to include refugees in their Covid-19 recovery plans because they remain extremely vulnerable.  

“As the Kenyan government draws up Covid-19 recovery plans, integrating refugees would represent a resounding acknowledgement of its commitment to seek a permanent solution for the forgotten refugees of Dadaab,” Dana Krause, head of mission Doctors Without Borders said.

(edited by o. owino)