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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
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  • 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.

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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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Teens Still At Risk But FGM Rate Goes Down in Africa: Research

Although girls under 14 are most at risk, research should include those aged 15 to 19

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FILE - A T-shirt warns against female genital mutilation. Its wearer attends an event, discouraging harmful practices such as FGM, at a girls high school in Imbirikani, Kenya, April 21, 2016. VOA

Female genital mutilation (FGM) has dropped drastically among African children this century, research shows, but campaigners said Wednesday that teenagers and young women remained at risk of the harmful practice.

Known as FGM, female genital mutilation is a ritual that usually involves the partial or total removal of the external genitalia, including the clitoris.

Cutting is a rite of passage in many societies, often with the aim of promoting chastity. It can cause chronic pain, menstrual problems, recurrent urinary tract infections, cysts and infertility. Some girls hemorrhage to death or die from infections. It can also cause fatal childbirth complications in later life.

FGM
Amran Mahamood used to circumcise young girls in Hargeysa, Somalia, but stopped after a religious leader convinced her the rite was not required by Islamic law. VOA

Analyzing data spanning more than 20 years, BMJ Global Health said in a study there was a “huge and significant decline” in FGM in children under 14 across Africa.

East Africa had the biggest fall in its prevalence rates, dropping to 8 percent in 2016 from 71 percent in 1995, according to the BMJ study published Tuesday.

In north Africa, prevalence rates fell to 14 percent in 2015 from nearly 60 percent in 1990, the report said; west Africa dropped to about 25 percent in 2017, from 74 percent in 1996.

UNICEF, the U.N. children’s agency, estimates that 200 million women and girls globally have undergone FGM, with the highest prevalence in Africa and parts of the Middle East.

FGm
Maasai girls and a man watch a video on a mobile phone prior to the start of a social event advocating against harmful practices such as female genital mutilation at the Imbirikani Girls High School in Imbirikani, Kenya. VOA

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Campaigners welcomed the drop but said FGM also affects teenagers and young women, demographic groups outside the study.

“We are pleased to see that the numbers are coming down in a lot of countries,” said Emma Lightowlers, a spokeswoman for campaign group 28TooMany, which does research on FGM in Africa. “But it doesn’t tell the whole story and there are other groups where cutting takes place after the age of 14. It takes place in teenagers, or in fact, even in women in preparation for marriage,” she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Female Genital Mutilation, FGM
A badge reads “The power of labor against FGM” is seen on a volunteer during a conference on International Day of Zero Tolerance for Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) in Cairo, Egypt, Feb. 6, 2018. (VOA)

Julia Lalla-Maharajh, founder of the Orchid Project, which campaigns against female genital cutting, agreed.

“Growing efforts to end the practice are having an impact [but] girls in this group may still be cut when they get older,” she said in an email to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

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Although girls under 14 are most at risk, research should include those aged 15 to 19, said British-based charity Forward, which supports FGM survivors from African communities.

“This data should not make us complacent to say that all those girls are risk-free,” said Naana Otoo-Oyortey, head of Forward. “We need to work towards ensuring these girls are supported and protected from FGM.” (VOA)