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Somali President asks Kenya to accommodate refugees, if the World’s Largest Refugee Camp ‘Dadaab’ shuts down

The Kenyan Government has already dissolved the Department of Refugee Affairs

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Dadaab
A recent family arrived in Dadaab. Image source: Wikipedia
  • Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee camp with over 3,00,000 inhabitants
  • Kenya plans to shut down this camp citing economic and security concerns
  • This move is widely criticized by human rights groups

Dadaab is a town situated in eastern Kenya which serves as a group of refugee camps which collectively form the largest in the world. Among the many camps that this town harbors,  Dagahaley, Hagadera and Ifo are the oldest (built in 1992) and most prominent. As a second wave of refugees arrived owing to large droughts in East Africa, camps of Ifo II and Kambioos were constructed which held a capacity of around 130,000 refugees. In total, Dadaab houses 300,000 refugees, most of whom had fled Somalia in the past due to unstable political conditions and constant civil wars.

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After the mass massacre in Garissa University in April 2015, the deputy president of Kenya had announced the closure of Dadaab refugee camps. In a country that was gripped with fears of a plummeting economy and dwindling natural resources, this attack by the militant group Al-Shabab which took lives of 148 university students shook the whole country with grief and sorrow.

Government officials suspected that this terrorist activity originated in those Somali refugee camps, and hence must be shut down to diminish the Kenyans’ security concerns. The Kenyan government, which had announced it would ensure this camp shut down within three months,  softened its stance on this matter later, as the camp remains functional to this day.

Although seemingly justified, this move was widely criticized by human rights groups. Human Rights Watch, in its statement, said there was “no credible evidence” that terrorist groups had evolved from refugee settlements.

Dadaab
Refugee Shelters in Dadaab. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s regional director in East Africa, told The Independent, “This reckless decision by the Kenyan government is an abdication of its duty to protect the vulnerable and will put thousands of lives at risk.

“It could lead to the involuntary return of thousands of refugees to Somalia and other countries of origin, where their lives may still be in danger. This would be in violation of Kenya’s obligations under international law.”

Despite all of these criticisms, Kenya reiterated in April this year that it had serious plans to shut down Dabaab, as problems for the country had only worsened since last year. Somalia’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, became the first Somali president to visit the refugee town this week. Somalia will be one of the most affected countries if Dabaab indeed settles down in the near future.

2013_04_19_President_Hassan_Sheik_Mohamud_c_(8667048035)
Hassan Sheikh Mohamud

In his speech, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud ensured the refugees he would make arrangements for basic services such as food and shelter upon their return home to Somalia. It is however, unclear who would fund these arrangements.

Kenyan Interior Secretary Joseph Nkaissery confirmed his government’s intention to shut down the 25-year-old complex, disregarding serious requests from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, to maintain its existence.

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“Kenya is committed to close the camp,” Nkaissery said.  “It is a decision we have already reached and we will jointly collaborate with the Somali government and the UNHCR on your safe return”, addressing the refugees. Supporting its decision, Kenya has already dissolved the Department of Refugee Affairs.

Kenya, however would not impose involuntary exit of refugees from its borders. Even as it plans to shut down Dadaab, Kenya is committed to the principles that its constitution is based on. Hence, government officials have said that in close cooperation with UN agencies and the Somali government, they would facilitate a safe and voluntary return of refugees to their home countries.

-by Saurabh Bodas (with inputs from VOA), an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @saurabhbodas96

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Venezuelan Migrants and Refugees at High Risk of Exploitation and Abuse

A survey by the International Organization for Migration finds Venezuelan migrants and refugees are at high risk

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Venezuelan, Migrants, Refugees
FILE - Venezuelan children sleep at the Binational Border Service Center in Tumbes, Peru, after a new migration law was imposed for all Venezuelan migrants to have valid visas and passports, June 15, 2019. VOA

A survey by the International Organization for Migration finds Venezuelan migrants and refugees are at high risk of exploitation and abuse.  More than 4,600 people were surveyed in five Caribbean and Central American countries between July and December 2018.

The survey provides a snapshot of the hardships encountered by a fraction of the four million people who have fled Venezuela’s political and economic crisis over the past few years.

One in five Venezuelans interviewed said they were forced to work under dire conditions without pay or were held against their will until they paid off a debt they incurred while escaping from Venezuela.

Rosilyn Borland is an IOM senior regional migrant protection and assistance specialist based in Costa Rica.  On a telephone line from the Costa Rican capital, San Jose, she tells VOA both men and women fall victim to traffickers who force them into abusive situations.

Venezuelan, Migrants, Refugees
FILE – A Venezuelan migrant rests outside the Ecuadorean migrations office at the Rumichaca International Bridge, in the border between Tulcan, Ecuador, and Ipiales, Colombia on August 20, 2018. VOA

“It is good to remember that these criminal networks, they focus on the vulnerabilities,” she said.  “So, those can be linked to your gender or they can be linked to other things.  So, often we see trafficking and exploitation of women linked to gender-based violence and inequalities that women face.  But also, men who are searching for a way to support their families… may also find themselves in situations of vulnerability.”

Borland says many migrants and refugees face discrimination while in transit or in destination countries.  She says massive flows of people often bring out the worst tendencies in host communities.

“Part of our reasons for asking these questions has to do with fighting against xenophobia and things that, unfortunately, sometimes happen when communities are hosting large numbers of people.  It is difficult.  It is a strain,” she said.

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Borland says it is important to regularize migrants in the host countries.   She says allowing migrants to work legally brings them out of the shadows so they can fight for their rights.  She says having legal status would make them less vulnerable to exploitation and abuse. (VOA)