Refugees in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya still in hardship | Refugees

In March 2021, Kenya ordered the swift closure of Kakuma and Dadaab — two sprawling refugee camps housing more than 400,000 people, mostly from neighbouring Somalia, South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo — to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) ) in just two weeks to come up with a plan to do so.

In response, UNHCR presented Kenya with what it described as “sustainable rights-based measures” to find solutions to the long-term displacement of refugees – solutions that included voluntary repatriation, travel to third countries under various arrangements, and Other stay options.

Finally, UNHCR and Kenyan authorities have agreed on a roadmap that will lead to two refugee camps closure Until June 30, 2022.

The announcement of the official closing date came as a shock to many camp residents.

Over the years, residents of Kakuma and Dadaab have heard countless empty promises of improved living arrangements and threats of being “sent home”. They have also been repeatedly accused of posing an unspecified “security risk” to Kenyan citizens and blamed for myriad problems in the country. For example, after the Westgate attack in 2013, Kenyan politicians claimed without any hard evidence that the Dadaab refugee camp had been turned into a “training ground for terrorists” and urged the swift repatriation of all residents.Human Rights Watch has Call The Kenyan government has claimed Somali refugees in the camps are responsible for insecurity in Kenya and said officials “did not provide credible evidence linking Somali refugees to any terrorist attack in Kenya”.

Behind this painful history, UNHCR residents are understandably skeptical of UNHCR’s claims of “sustainable rights-based measures” that will ensure they are “safe and secure” before the June 30 deadline. leave the camp with dignity”. They do not believe they can safely return to their country, do not want to start over in an unspecified third country, and do not believe that the Kenyan government will offer them the opportunity to fully integrate into Kenyan society.

I know this because, before moving to Canada last year, I lived in Kakuma refugee camp for 11 years. Over the years, I have experienced firsthand the fear of being kicked out of the only home you know. The frustration of not having the rights and freedoms that enables you to fully integrate into society and build a future for yourself; the politicians who know that you are in charge of your destiny will not hesitate to make you a scapegoat for any atrocity, if it happens to be in their favor.

All this is not to deny Kenya’s generosity in hosting so many refugees for so long. The fact that Kenyans welcomed me and thousands of others like me in their country when we needed it, we will never forget that. But that doesn’t give Kenyan politicians the right to turn us into a political football, or simply ignore us.

Sadly, that’s what they’re currently doing.

Since the announcement that the Kakuma and Dadaab camps will close on 30 June, little has been done to make the camp’s residents clear about their future.

Few refugees have returned to their home countries due to security concerns and the lack of economic opportunities the move brings. For many camp residents, it is unclear what third-country options are available.

In late 2021, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta signed into law a new Refugee Act aimed at providing better education and employment opportunities in Kenya for residents of the two camps. There is also news that refugees are starting to receive permits to work in the country. But these efforts ultimately came too late. Implementation of the Refugee Act has been slow. Parliament has yet to pass the regulatory framework for the new law. Many Dadaab and Kakuma residents still do not see a direct path out of the camps and into a dignified life in Kenya.

With more than a month until the closing deadline, the country’s leaders are still not interested in giving camp residents any information about their future wait.

Kenya will hold general elections on August 9. Politicians of all parties are stepping up efforts to persuade Kenyans to vote for them and formulate policy proposals for the next five years, but they have barely mentioned Dadaab, Kakuma and refugees. live there. Even the most prominent presidential candidates, former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice President William Ruto, have remained completely silent on the issue.

But it doesn’t have to be this way.

Clearly, Kenya is not ready to shut down Dadaab and Kakuma in a month. The people who propose themselves as the next leader of the country should accept this reality and make plans for the camp and its inhabitants.

This election could be the perfect opportunity for politicians to stop jumping between completely ignoring the presence of Dadaab and Kakuma and baselessly blaming the refugee camps for Kenya’s security problems. Instead, they can and should develop a truly viable plan to build a future for the inhabitants of refugee camps inside Kenya.

Among the hundreds of thousands of people living in these camps, many without any home other than Kenya, aspire to be part of Kenyan society and contribute to the country economically.

A politician finally taking steps to help the inhabitants of the refugee camps – many of whom are young people like me with big dreams for the future – will not only benefit refugees, but the country as a whole.

Maybe candidates think that talking about refugee camps before the election could affect their chances of winning, or leave them vulnerable to populist attacks. They also have many pressing issues to address, such as widespread youth unemployment, devastating poverty and a drought that has ravaged the country. But all this does not mean whoever wins the election should once again leave those living in Kakuma and Dadaab to their fates.

The Refugee Act is passed – the blueprint for helping people like me become part of Kenya is in the hands of our leaders. The new president can work with UNHCR and other stakeholders, including refugees, to ensure the effective implementation of the Act and help the camp residents reintegrate to truly resolve the Kakuma and Dadaab issues once and for all.

I’m terrified of what might happen on June 30, but I’m also hopeful for the future. If the camps don’t close in a month — and are unlikely to close — Kenya’s new leaders will have an unmissable opportunity to turn what has been seen as a problem for decades into an opportunity.

The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial position.

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