The United Nations refugee agency is raising concern that hundreds of independent charities are doing more harm than good at Kenya's Dadaab refugee camp by handing out aid — including cash — to those who have fled the famine in the Horn of Africa.

The agency UNHCR warns the unprecedented generosity is unco-ordinated and could cause significant problems among the camp of hundreds of thousands of refugees, who are mostly from neighbouring Somalia.

In an exclusive report Tuesday, the CBC's Carolyn Dunn documented a Turkish charity's incredible giveaway of cash in Dadaab. 

Dunn witnessed a van pull up and men from the charity move to a tent and hand out white tickets to camp residents. A day later, hundreds of camp residents holding tickets lined up as the charity handed out 2,000 Kenyan Shillings — equivalent to about $22 — to each of the ticket-holders.

The amount, Dunn said, "is a king’s ransom to these people and it really is a gift from this charity."

"But sometimes gifts have a cost," she said.


A Yardimeli representative hands out cash to a refugee in the Dadaab camp. The Turkish charity says it's helped thousands through cash and food handouts in recent days. (Carolyn Dunn/CBC )

With well over a thousand refugees flowing into the already overcrowded camp every day, the UN refugee agency says more chaos on the ground is the last thing anyone needs.

While the independent charities are acting with good intentions, the agency says the groups are showing up by the hundreds and handing everything — from cash to clothes to food —and creating an imbalance, since not all refugees will be lucky enough get extras.

"I think it's very important that we have things co-ordinated," UNHCR spokesman Emmanuel Nyabera told the CBC's Dunn. "We need to have everyone go through us, at least that we know what’s happening where." 

There's also a fear that distributing the aid randomly in the camp could create security situations, since most of the refugees are penniless and have fled desperate circumstances.

Guards use whips to control crowd


Crowd control in Dadaab: security officers use sticks and hide-covered whips to contain restless refugees in line for cash handouts from a Turkish charity. (Carolyn Dunn/CBC)

Fatuma Ibrahim, who fled the famine in neighbouring Somalia because of the famine, didn't know exactly what the ticket would get her, but told Dunn she knew it will help feed her and her eight children.

"I think I'll get food for some days," she said.

Amina Sugow, in her wheelchair, was moved to the front of the line. Alone and disabled, she is considered among the most needy.

"It’s good because it’s going to supplement what the UN is giving me," she told the CBC.

When the head of the charity arrived, it became apparent just how generous the gifts would be, as the men pulled out stacks of cash donated from the Turkish people and handed bundles out to coincide with the beginning of Eid festivities, which mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

The charity's staff woudn’t reveal how much they've given over three days, but the CBC's estimates the amount adds up to a minimum of $150,000.


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"Why have millions of people been left to starve in East Africa, right in front of the world’s eyes?" said Osman Ilhan, general manager of Yardimeli, the charity handing out the cash. 

The immediate security concerns became obvious when the crowd starts getting rowdy. As the tension built, security teams whipped members of the crowd to get them back in line, Dunn said. 

But in the end, the money was distributed without serious incident — to the delight of refugees like Fatuma Mohammed.

"I don’t have a penny to my name," she said. "With this I can buy sugar, vegetables, even clothes."