(ERGO) – Whenever Sadia Salim Iberwa walks to school in Dadaab’s Dhagahley refugee camp, she faces torrents of insults and sometimes stones hurled by her schoolmates, who single her out because of the colouring of her skin, hair and eyes.
Sadiya, 18, a grade three student in Ilayas primary school, is one of a small visible minority of albinos living in the refugee camp.
“People say a hyena or a dog is coming, or come look at this girl, the people laugh at us or throw stones. When the students leave school they carry stones and follow me.
We are new to this area. I would report them to their mothers but I don’t know them. So I’m faced with discrimination that is making my stay here difficult,” Sadia told Radio Ergo.
She no longer goes out alone and her mother escorts her to and from the school fearing her daughter could be harmed.
Sadia said there is a despicable culture of discrimination against her due to her looks and the deliberate stigma deeply hurts her.
Sadia’s three siblings aged 13, 11 and one year were also born with albinism and face the same stigma, discrimination, and health issues as a result.
The hot temperatures in the camp make life for her very difficult as her skin and eyes lacking natural pigmentation are delicate.
“I feel pain all over my body, my skin starts to peel off, my eyes irritate if I look at the sun, I sometimes feel headache, I carry five litres of water to pour on myself and cool off. When the water dries up the discomforts continue,” she explained.
Sadia and her family joined the refugee camp in northern Kenya in January 2023 after fleeing Muungabow in Jamame, Lower Juba.
Her mother, Roney Mukhtar Abdikadir, said they were farmers in Jamame. Separated from her husband and with six children to support alone, she stopped farming as she could not balance the farm work and domestic duties of taking care of her children with albinism.
They have been registered and she has the refugee aid card and she washes clothes to supplement the aid they receive.
There are about 25 people living with albinism in Dagahley camp, aged from one year up to 37 years. They are constantly pushed aside at water sources, schools, hospital and the market.
Another mother, Muhubo Abdiaziz Abdow, said children throw stones at her albino daughter Suldano Omar Abdikadir, aged two, when she is not at home to protect her.
Muhubo came to the camp in 1992 after fleeing the civil war in Kismayo. She married and has raised six children as a refugee. Only Suldano has the inherited albinism condition.
She said it was a shock to see her young daughter being victimised due to her skin colour.
“I leave my daughter with another young girl because I am working. I lock them up at home, my neighbours also help me watch over my daughter,” said Muhubo, who does laundry jobs to make a living.
Dr Mohamed Abdi Ibrahim, a general health practitioner at Al-baqra health centre in Hagadera camp, said people need more awareness about how to treat people with albinism. Being subject to constant discrimination and shunning affects their mental health.
“A person living with albinism can share food with other people, they can sleep together, they can share clothing, they can sleep on the same mattress. There is no way the condition can be transmitted because it’s not a communicable disease,” he emphasised.
“I am advising people to respect these people with albinism, as they need to be respected just like any other person.”