By Laura Hirahara
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
DADAAB, Kenya- As heavy rains flood the refugee camps in Dadaab groups are calling upon Kenya to reach an agreement with the UN and Medecins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders (MSF) to provide more assistance. The refugee camp, originally built for 90,000, now houses over 300,000 residents, most of them from neighboring Somalia where constant violence has pushed people into the Kenya camps for the past 20 years. Each month, thousands more make the trip across the Kenya border. Resources like fuel, food and shelter are not meeting the demands of this growing population. Joke Van Peteghem, MSF’s mission director in Kenya stated earlier this week, “We are at a dead end. [. . .] We call on the Kenyan authorities and aid actors to immediately facilitate their [the refugees] relocation to suitable accommodation.”
Many see Kenya’s reluctance to accommodate this refugee population as a contributing factor to its deteriorating condition. The camp has been in existence for twenty years and some of its residents are third generation camp inhabitants whose grandparents came to Kenya in the early 1990’s. “There is a tendency to see refugee camps as warehouses for storing unused people; we need to treat them as normal people. There are children living here whose parents have never seen Somalia. Can we really say these people are foreigners?” said Richard Acland, a senior coordinator for the United Nations in Dadaab. Many in the camp do not have the necessary papers to travel past the camps into Kenya proper, leaving them in a sort of limbo without the protection or resources of any government.
Other problems plague the camps resulting from the drawn out conflict in Somalia. Human Rights Watch has documented the recruitment of child soldiers in the camps. Somali groups, like the insurgent force Shabab, enter the camps promising high pay and UN support. In 2009, Kenyan officials were accused with helping these recruitment efforts and in the last two weeks, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees said Kenya is forcing refugees back into Somalia in violation of international law. The latest incident includes a group of over 8,000 Somalis, mostly women, children and the elderly, who had already crossed the border into Kenya. As the rains continue to flood new portions of the camp and more refugees arrive, many question how to provide even the most basic of resources to Dadaab’s inhabitants.
For more information, please see;
CNN– At Least 700 Families Living Outside Kenya Refugee Camp Face Peril– 12, Nov. 2010
MSF- Kenya: Assistance Urgently Needed for Vulnerable Somali Refugees– 12, Nov. 2010
NYT- Somalia’s Wars Swell Refugee Camp in Kenya– 11, Nov. 2010
Reuters Africa- Kenya Illegally Forcing Refugees Back to Somalia: UNCHR– 3, Nov. 2010