In March 2021, the Kenyan government gave the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) a 14-day ultimatum to develop a plan to shut down the Kakuma and Dadaab camps. The shocking announcement left all humanitarian organizations and refugees in contemplation of solutions.
Unarguably, Kenya’s generosity to provide land and some living conditions for refugees remains exemplary. She has proven beyond doubt the true definition of humanitarianism. The Dadaab and the Kakuma have been categorized as one of the largest refugee camps in the world. Despite the instability of refugees moving in and returning to their countries, these camps host more than 430,000 people from 15 nationalities.
Closing the camps to an extent is a solution. Many humanitarian activists have condemned the remote camping of refugees. However, for several thousands of refugees, life will become a new struggle again.
In response to the government, the UNHCR gave the following suggestions.
- Enhanced voluntary repatriation in safety and dignity, while taking into account the movement restrictions related to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
- Provision of alternative-stay arrangements for refugees from the East African Community (EAC). This would represent a major opportunity for refugees to become self-reliant and contribute to the local economy.
- Acceleration of the issuing of national ID cards to over 11,000 Kenyans who have previously been identified as registered in the refugee database, and continuation of the vetting process for others in similar circumstances.
- Resettlement to third countries for a small number of refugees who are not able to return home and face protection risks.
Going by all the doable proposals from the UNHCR, the points below will explain the significance of closing these camps. The bigger question is at the level of the implementation.
To begin with, voluntary repatriation has always been an option. How is it safe for people to return to countries where there is still war? Harder questions with little or no answers. It is probable to assume every refugee who left property will like to return to their hometown. If they could return, possibly they could have gone back. It is unlikely that now they will voluntarily choose to go back, especially if there is still war in their countries. This indirectly means that several of them will be risking their lives to return home. On the other hand, it directly defeats the purpose of fleeing for refuge and escaping death. The hope for their safety remains a mere imagination but the reality of their security is always going to be questionable. There is no way, asking these people to return can be considered voluntary.
The second option of integrating them into the East African Community remains the wisest. This is not just a practice of neighbors helping neighbors but it’s an act of humane compassion. Many if not all of these people have skills. Instead of staying idle and jobless in camps whilst they are fed, it is a great opportunity for them to use their skills to earn a living. There is no denial that job scarcity and unemployment rates will not be a concern for Kenyans too but at least these refugees can be productive. This is the best time to encourage and engage them to begin startups or small-scale businesses. This will be a win-win solution in that, the Kenyan economy will enjoy a boom and the refugees will gain independence/self-sustenance. Self-sufficiency has been a request from thousands of refugees around the world. It grants them the financial stability which will enable them to maintain their families. Hopefully, if the wars in their countries end, they will return with a base to restart life again.
Regarding plan 3, it is pathetic that some Kenyans will take advantage of the refugee crisis to register as refugees. It is a challenge for the UNHCR to know these deceptive people when they are registering. Probably some Kenyans will act like this because they have no other option. Given how shaky the political climate has been recent, is it a surprise that people will consider refugee status over being a national? This should raise eyebrows about how well are the government’s economic policies? Is it accessible to all Kenyans? Are tribalism and nepotism still dominating the Kenyan society? Difficult questions. Many Kenyans have affirmed that tribalism is a major stumbling block to democracy as well as socio-economic development. Some have gone as far as to say, tribalism is today what racism was in colonial Kenya. The closing of these camps should be a time for reflection on how equality has been defined and applied to all Kenyan people. Indirectly denying one’s country or refusing to identify with one’s country should be a critical concern that should raise a quick reaction from the government. Therefore, these closures will imply more than 11,000 Kenyans will be without support. That is a huge number of people who will be in need added to the refugees who will be allowed to remain in Kenya.
The final option of resettling refugees in third countries is the only one that seems unrealistic. Many if not all countries have become unwilling to receive refugees. Several are battling with thousands in their countries. How likely is it that they will be glad to receive Kenya’s leftovers? Harder questions. However, unlikely this proposal may be, it is still worth anticipating. This will sadly mean refugees have to move further away from their countries and start life afresh again. The adaptation process and mental instability for children, in particular, can be very overwhelming. Depending on the country they go to, this will imply learning a new language, and integrating into a new system.
Agreeably, every good thing has a bad side. One key significance of this camp closing which is good is the fact that children will be able to attend schools like other nationals. They will have equal opportunities to study and take the national exams with confidence. This will help them mentally heal to an extent from the trauma of being rejected in their countries. As they socialize and build new friendships, they will be able to easily integrate. Though they remain foreigners by nationality, they will have some sense of belonging. This equally means they will be able to study with concentration. Every human being wants to be accepted no matter where they are. Living together is the highest form of learning each other’s culture and understanding how to value and support one another.
There will be some positive benefits to closing these camps. Despite the negative consequences for some, the hope for conflicts to end completely remains fundamental. Resettlement of refugees is not going to be an easy task for the Kenyan government but this bold step is applaudable.
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