Living in a refugee camp for thirty years and facing continual, formidable repatriation threats is a dreadful issue indeed. Kenya is demanding that Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camp be closed, and their inhabitants returned to their own countries. So, refugees in these camps are petrified because they are afraid of a dimmer future.
Somali refugees have been living in Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps for decades. When their country descended into chaos in 1991, they flocked to Kenya, distancing themselves from the sinister war and seeking refuge. The Dadaab refugee camp was initiated on that dire need. It is one of the first camps designated for the civil strife escaping civilians, and consists of three camps: Ifo, Hagadera, and Dagahaley.
The Dadaab camp is located in the Northeastern province of Kenya, which is entirely inhabited by Somali people, making the refugees in these camps enjoy a preferential situation. They face neither cultural, nor language barriers when they come to big towns of the province to run errands and interact with the towns’ residents. Everybody speaks Somali, and everyone has the same culture.
The refugees never dreamed of the fact that their country’s instability would continue for thirty years, which is the reality on the ground. Thirty years is too long. Children born in the camp are now raising families, with their parents being grandparents. In other words, the refugee camps accommodate three generations; they are home to some, but temporary places to others. For those born in the camps, they do not know which place to call home. Camps or countries? They have never seen Somalia, just heard of it.
Can the Somali refugees return home at this time? It is unlikely, for there is nothing to go back to, neither peace nor infrastructure. This means, the refugees will cling to the camps even if Kenya insists on their removal. Many of them had been eyeing to be resettled in the United Sates up until President Trump upended that dream; and it is unclear hitherto whether President Biden will open the doors for them, though they many not achieve much of what they expect.
The vast majority of refugee families have enormously benefited from the camps when it comes to their offspring’s education. Both primary and secondary schools operate in the camps, and educate thousands of children, many of whom have already gone overseas for further education. This is an opportunity lacked by a countless number of Somali children displaced within their country. Speaking with the media, Somali parents living in the Dadaab camp have admitted this educational chance given to their children. “I entered the Dadaab camp in 1992, and have resided here ever since. My children got educated in the camp, and we cannot go back to Somalia at this time, “said a refugee parent interviewed in the camp by media outlet.
Unlike the Dadaab camp, the Kakuma refugee camp is both smaller and less populated. Furthermore, Kenya does not see the Kakuma camp to be an existential threat to its country, although many Somali refugees live there, partly because the camp is far from Kenya-Somalia frontier. Hence, Kenya is overly focusing on the closure of the Dadaab camp, arguing it jeopardizes the country’s stability and its residents’ safety. Hundreds of thousands of refugees, mostly from Somalia, are living in the Dadaab and Kakuma camps. “The Dadaab and the Kakuma refugee camps in northern Kenya together host more than 410,000 people, a small proportion of whom are from South Sudan”, read an excerpt from a news story published by Reuters on March 24.
Kenyan interior minister Fred Matiang’i has given the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) 14 days to draft a plan aimed at closing the refugee camps. However, the agency urged Kenya to consider the need of refugees who need protection and are unable to return home. “The decision would have an impact on the protection of refugees in Kenya, including in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” the agency said in a statement published by Reuters.
Somalia, on its side, has not said anything about the decision made by Kenya. Relations between the two countries have been on bad terms lately, with each one accusing the other of creating unnecessary provocations.
Somali and other refugees who are not willing to return to their respective countries should not be forced to do so; otherwise, Kenya will contravene international Human Rights.