Accompany Maine resident, Shuab Mahat, on a virtual reality journey to Dadaab Refugee Camp in eastern Kenya. Returning to the camp for the first time since being resettled to the United States 15 years ago, Shuab is there to reconnect with his mother, siblings and grandmother. He is trying to understand why his family, along with a quarter of a million other refugees, are stuck in the desert with scarcely any possibility of getting out.

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Shuab places the camera at the heart of family life, allowing viewers a view of life in Dadaab that is unsettling, heartbreaking, moving, and uncomfortable. Viewers are intentionally left with this discomfort, forced to confront the reality of a world that consigns people to refugee camps for decades by closed borders and travel bans.
— Catherine Besteman, Professor of Anthropology, Colby College

Somali Bantu Resettlement

Following the collapse of the Somali government in 1991, Jubba Valley villagers began fleeing their subsistence farmland in the Jubba River Valley of southern Somalia to escape factional fighting and pervasive violence against civilians.

Jubba Valley villagers experienced a history of racial stigmatization and persecution that followed them from their homes in Somalia to the refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya. In Dadaab, the group came to self-identify as Somali Bantu, a distinction that allowed them to negotiate the resettlement of 12,000 members of the group to the United States as “persecuted minorities” in 1999 - eight years after the start of the civil war. (26 years later, the camp in Dadaab is still home to nearly 250,000 refugees.)

After more years of waiting, some Somali Bantus were resettled to southern states like Texas and Georgia and, in 2005, in search of safer and more affordable housing, many began moving to the northeast, settling in Lewiston, Maine where other Somalis had settled beginning in 2001.

The Somali Bantu were not the first immigrant influx to Lewiston.  In the late 1800s, tens of thousands of French Canadians settled along Androscoggin River to work in the city’s textile mills. With the shuttering of mills a century later, Lewiston’s population and economy were in a downturn when Somali Bantu refugees began to arrive.

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Besteman, Catherine. Making Refuge: Somali Bantu Refugees and Lewiston, Maine. Durham, NC: Duke UP, 2016. Print.

United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees. "245,126." UNHCR Refugees in the Horn of Africa: Somali Displacement Crisis. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 May 2017.

Viewing Returning to Dadaab was one of the most unique film experiences I’ve ever had. We often talk of walking in another’s shoes to better understand their journey; this film actually put us in Shuab’s shoes...
— Marcela Peres, Director of the Lewiston Public Library

Images from Returning To Dadaab

Support for Returning to Dadaab is provided by SPACE Gallery through the Kindling Fund

Funded in part by a grant from the Maine Arts Commission, an independent state agency supported by the National Endowment for the Arts.

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