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Eyes Wide Shut

In North-Eastern Kenya a humanitarian disaster is taking place. Each month, thousands of refugees cross the border from neighbouring Somalia to escape the ongoing violence and desperate living conditions in that benighted country. There is one road heading west from the border and within 100 kilometres that road reaches the town of Dadaab.

These people want to enter the world's largest refugee camp. In a 50 square kilometre area around Dadaab three separate settlements house at least 290,000 people, but there is no space for the newcomers. Some have already travelled for weeks, but they may have to wait months more to be registered by the UNHCR. There is not enough space, finance or manpower to help this constant wave of people, and internal politics in Kenya also hamper decision-making. Living in improvised huts, without medical treatment, they try to stay alive. Confronted by this desperate situation and the world's indifference, Chris de Bode decided to try something different. Before he took these portraits of the people he met in Dadaab, he asked them to close their eyes. He explains:

'The world turned its back on the Somali conflict. We just don't want to look anymore. That's why I portrayed these people with their eyes closed. They ceased to exist. They are anonymous people in a desert of sorrow. Will we ever be able to look them in the eye again?'

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