Last week, High Court Judge John Mativo overturned Kenyan Government decision to close Daadab refugee camp -citing the Governments move as “excessive, arbitrary and disproportionate” And that it was an act of group persecution since it targeted Somali refugees. It is the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights -and lobby group Kituo cha Sheria that had challenged the Governments decision in court.
For starters, Daadab serves as the World’s largest refugee camp today. Located in Kenya since early 90’s, it started off by accommodating about 90,000 refugees from Somalia escaping the civil war, drought and famine at the time. It has steadily outgrown its capacity accommodating more than 300,000 refugees in its five (5) camps -most of whom are still from Somalia. Trouble between the Kenyan Government and Somali refugees began immediately after the Westgate mall attack in 2013, and the subsequent Garrisa University attack in 2015 -which the Government would insist that these attacks were planned within Daadab refugee camp and that the camp is still highly infiltrated with the Al-shabaab militants. Although the high court would rule that there was no evidence to substantiate the same, the Kenyan Government is already setting an appeal as Government’s spokesperson insisted “The camp had lost its humanitarian nature and had become a haven for terrorism and other illegal activities”
The Kenyan scenario is not a case in isolation. The globe today is witnessing increasing protectionist arguments revolving around terrorism, refugees and politics. And to some extent -religion. From across Europe to the USA, with recent Court rule overturning President Trump’s Executive orders to bar individuals traveling from seven (7) Countries into the US. Namely Syria, Yemen, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, Libya and Somalia. But again, Trump’s executive order is not the first in US history. Jimmy Carter during his time barred Iranians -Franklin D. Roosevelt barred German Jews with an infamous incidence of the St. Louis ocean liner ship being forced to return to Europe and some of its passengers believed to have been victims of the holocaust. There exists many other examples throughout history -including examples of barring those whom certain Countries didn’t share in their political ideologies. But the Kenyan case is a bit different -in the sense that, it is not that the Somalis are being barred from entering Kenya, but it is the Daadab refugee camp that is being closed, refugees repatriated, and a border fence erected to prevent terrorists from accessing Kenya. The only similarity is that all the above are protectionist moves, and as the Kenya Government spokesperson would state, “The lives of Kenyans matter. Our interest in this case, and in the closure of Dadaab refugee camp, remains to protect the lives of Kenyans”
Now, the intention of this piece is not to argue for or against the closure of Daadab refugee camp, but to try and dissect some underlying issues. First, we are all in agreement that any refugee camp is a temporary habitat, and that no level of permanence should be attached to Dadaab. Secondly, that refugees are human beings and ought to be treated as such. Thirdly, if there is any security threat as a result of conditions in a camp, the various stakeholders need to find sustainable solutions placing into account the welfare of the refugees. It is now more than 20 years of Dadaab’s existence, it has outgrown its capacity -and it is no secret that the conditions that our brothers and sisters are living in are not quite humane. This has been pointed out to the International partners by various African nations. And to some extent even questioning the International Community’s commitment to refugees. Sometimes comparing the refugee conditions in Africa vis a vis the conditions in developed Nations.
Refugee conditions should relatively be a 20th century argument -since the 21st century should be more of how to stop the production of refugees rather than how to take care of refugees. But the global dynamics is not giving us any room to focus on the 21st century commitment -and it is also proving very difficult to understand how today’s refugee crisis is worse than the World War 2 one. Back to Dadaab -Majority of refugees are from Somalia, a Country in her infancy when it comes to a stable State while at the same time al-shabaab posing as a great threat to both her Government and Civilians. Therefore, the Kenyan Government needs to rope in more stakeholders in engaging matters Somali refugees. Are the refugees themselves safe to go back home? Is the Kenyan government engaging Somalia in figuring out how to deal with refugees born in Dadaab but lack adequate information about their homes in Somalia? Or is it just a matter of packing human beings into tracks and dropping them on new lands? Can the regional bodies be roped in? Are there neighboring Countries willing to take the excess refugees from Dadaab in the meantime? Has the newly elected Somalia President Mohamed Famarjo any strategies on his people? and is he ready to start engaging his Kenyan counterparts?
As much as Kenya would want to solve al-shabaab menace by closing Dadaab refugee camp, she needs to critically asses how huge numbers of young people moving to Somalia all at once to meet joblessness might end up impacting on the region. While at the same time, it’s closure won’t necessarily mean that the region will now stop producing refugees. Look at South Sudan for instance, that young State is slowly going into a point of no return -Dadaab might just find itself replacing Somalis with South Sudanese.
Looking at Daadab holistically therefore, its forced closure by the Kenyan government might not solve much of the regions problems. But this does not mean that the current refugee conditions shouldn’t be challenged. Actually, various stakeholders need to asses the situation and solve what can be solved in the short-term. And if indeed Dadaab has become a breeding ground for terrorist, then the international community needs to move with speed.
There are also other refugee related discourses yet to be fully dissected, such as possibilities of the international community buying refugee food from host Countries -improving local farmers livelihood instead of airlifting packed food from oversees -among other issues. It is my believe that the ongoing Dadaab debacle will help to provide better refugee standards -not just in Kenya- but across the globe.But more fundamentally, will assist in shaping the discourse of ending the production of refugees in totality.
In conclusion, the African Union with their Agenda 2063 that is ambitious to stop wars in Africa by 2020,should by now have in place structures and memorandum for both refugee repatriation and refugee naturalization. It is in bad taste for the Continent to get into conflict with international organizations on matters refugees -yet it keeps on producing refugees itself.