Back to Africa Check

Scam alert! Malnourished refugee child photos from 2011 used in fake Facebook appeal

Social media is a powerful platform for people hoping to raise funds to treat life-threatening medical conditions.

But imposters also set their traps. They use real photos of people suffering serious ailments and add heart-breaking stories to fraudulently scam donations from the generous.

Photos of a severely malnourished child were recently posted on a Kenyan Facebook group page. The post said the child, named Michael, “started complaining about stomach upsets in August 2018. But it was later known to his mother that Michael had stomach cancer”.

It continues: “Since then, it has been a nightmare for the mother since she had to leave her casual jobs to take care of his ailing son. Michael's stomach has been and every time he dispenses wastes, it's a nightmare. He cries from the excruciating pain.”

Then comes the payoff. “It broke my heart when his mother told me that from January she has been looking for KSh550,000 for surgery.”

The user then asks the group’s 255,000 members to donate money and “make it happen for Michael”. An M-Pesa number is provided for payments.

Photos of refugee child taken in 2011

But a reverse image search reveals that the photos were first published online in 2011 – eight years ago.

They show Minhaj Gedi Farah, a severely malnourished child from Somalia who was brought to the International Rescue Committee hospital at the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya in July 2011.

The photos were taken by Associated Press photographer Schalk van Zuydam. At the time, they were widely shared as examples of the plight of thousands of refugee children fleeing famine-devastated Somalia.

Lynne Hill, AP’s archive accounts coordinator, said the photos were part of the news agency’s collection.

“We can confirm that both images are AP copyright IDs 110726025197 and 11072619465,” she told Africa Check. She also provided a link to the photos in the AP archive.

Baby just seven months old

Minhaj’s mother, Assiyah Dagane Osman, was among thousands of Somalis who crossed into Kenya to flee the fighting and famine that had engulfed their country.

The International Rescue Committee reported that he was seven months old and weighed just 3.1 kilograms (6.83 pounds). That’s the average weight of a healthy newborn.

A few months later the IRC released new photos of Minaj, showing him chubby-cheeked, smiling and visibly recovered. – Dancan Bwire (22/03/2019)


Republish our content for free

We believe that everyone needs the facts.

You can republish the text of this article free of charge, both online and in print. However, we ask that you pay attention to these simple guidelines. In a nutshell:

1. Do not include images, as in most cases we do not own the copyright.

2. Please do not edit the article.

3. Make sure you credit "Africa Check" in the byline and don't forget to mention that the article was originally published on

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”, “altered”, “partly false” or “missing context”. This could have serious consequences. What do you do?

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Meta's third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Add new comment

Restricted HTML

  • Allowed HTML tags: <a href hreflang> <em> <strong> <cite> <blockquote cite> <code> <ul type> <ol start type> <li> <dl> <dt> <dd> <h2 id> <h3 id> <h4 id> <h5 id> <h6 id>
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
limit: 600 characters

Want to keep reading our fact-checks?

We will never charge you for verified, reliable information. Help us keep it that way by supporting our work.

Become a newsletter subscriber

Support independent fact-checking in Africa.