Thursday, February 12, 2009

February 12, 2009 - Refugees in Kenya

Among the challenges Kenya faces politically and economically, an ongoing issue that the country has been dealing with for quite awhile is the humanitarian issue of hosting refugees from other war-torn African countries, namely Sudan and Somalia.

"Dadaab" is referred to as one camp, but is actually three refugee camps in the northeastern part of Kenya on the border of Somalia, created in 1991 to assist refugees fleeing Somalia. The camp was designed to host 90,000 refugees and currently has almost 250,000. Estimates are that in the last several months, 10,000 refugees from Somalia have been coming into the country every month, which is really not sustainable. The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) is an agency that oversees the camp with assistance from NGOs like CARE and other UN agencies like UNICEF (for nutrition, water and sanitation, and child protection services mostly) and WFP (for food provision). UNHCR has recently promised to expand Dadaab's facilities because they are completely overburdened and in some cases are not safe or sanitary. Local drought and flooding conditions make life harder in Dadaab as well, in addition to violence that spreads from Somalia into that part of Kenya. Facilities for the local community, such as schools and hospitals, are also overburdened because of the refugees and so UNHCR will be investing in improving those facilities as well. In addition, at least 50,000 refugees will be transported to the other major refugee camp in Kenya, Kakuma.

Kakuma is the refugee camp in the northwestern part of Kenya that has housed 70,000 predominantly Sudanese refugees since 1992 (notably, "the Lost Boys of Sudan" were hosted at this camp until they were resettled to the United States). Kakuma is known to have "good" education services and is it has also been noted that the people who live in the camp are less poor than the Kenyans who live in the area surrounding the camp. Interestingly, Sudanese refugees are being repatriated to Sudan more readily than Somalian refugees, who really can't go back to Somalia due to the ongoing violence. Because of this, refugees from Dadaab will be moved to Kakuma and, eventually, it is anticipated that both camps will host more Somalians than refugees from any other African countries (there are pockets of refugees from Ethiopia, Burundi, Uganda, etc.).

Given UNHCR's commitment to improve conditions in Dadaab, I thought it was an interesting time to share this information on life in Kenya. At the end of March, Kristoffer will be monitoring schools for WFP up near Kakuma and hopes to get a look at the camp; he has already been to Dadaab once before. It is so interesting to me that even though I think Kenya is all screwed up in so many ways (corruption, etc.), it is still a "model" country compared to places like Sudan and Somalia and refugees would rather live a permanently tough life in a camp in Kenya (many of them have been here for more than a decade!) than stay in their unstable homelands.


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