Field notes, perspectives, stories & updates from IAFR's work in Kakuma Refugee Camp, Kenya
I created this short and silent plea in response to an announcement of the Kenyan government this week. They have decided to close their two main refugee camps known as Kakuma and Dadaab. Nearly 1/2 million people live in these camps. They are now living with extreme uncertainty concerning their fate. As I have been visiting Kakuma refugee camp 2-3 times a year since 2011, my friends there – most of whom are Christians – have expressed how unsettling this is for everyone.
While the Kenyan government says that national security is a major reason for the decision (it is true that some horrific terrorist attacks were planned by a small group of extremists in these camps), the overwhelming majority of the refugees are women and children who have nothing to do with terrorism. The same goes for most of the men in the camps. It would be far more strategic and helpful to focus on rooting out the small group of extremists than it would be to simply deport the entire populations of these camps.
There are no doubt other factors involved in the making of the decision to take such extreme measures. The country has a presidential election coming up in 8/2022 and anti refugee platforms in the name of national security are an easy (and misleading) vote getting tactic (not only in Kenya). The country is also at odds with its neighbor Somalia over their maritime border. As most refugees in Kenya are from Somalia, the threat to deport them all puts pressure on the Somali government. Such a move would further destabilize the country.
But is that really in the best interests of Kenya? To destabilize Somalia? I think not.
Furthermore, many of Kenya’s refugees come from South Sudan, Sudan, DR Congo, Burundi, and Ethiopia as well. Forcing these women, children, and men to return to these fragile and unsettled countries would further destabilize the region.
Furthermore, I must note that stripping marginalized and vulnerable people of the little hope they have is dangerous. Former UN official, Roméo Dallaire, notes in his book, “Shake Hands with the Devil”, just how dangerous people become when they lose all hope.
My refugee friends are quick to tell me that their number one struggle each day is to keep hope alive. The announcement of the Kenyan government greatly intensified that struggle this week. Hope is to the soul what oxygen is to the lungs. We literally cannot survive without it. People who are stripped of hope are more vulnerable to the exploitation of extremist groups.
It turns out that the national security interests of Kenya are well served by the refugee camps as they play an important role in the fragile region.
Dear USA & International Community…
It is no secret that developing nations like Kenya host 85% of the world 26 million refugees. That is a huge contribution to international stability and security.
It is also no secret that the rich nations of the world are doing far too little in sharing the burden with them. It is in all of our best interests that the most vulnerable people on the planet – those who have been robbed of place- find safety and have reason to hope that they will not simply be forgotten in refugee camps like Kakuma and Dadaab.
We can certainly help by investing our resources in the nations that host refugees – to strengthen them and to help them meet the basic needs of those in the camps.
We can also help by significantly increasing the number of people served by our refugee resettlement programs – offering the forcibly displaced a permanent place within our borders. We have never offered more than 1% of the refugee population opportunity to resettle in any given year. An international agreement to resettle just 3% of the global refugee population each year would be a major step in that direction.
The number of refugees worldwide has increased by 58% in the past 10 years. We need to increase our participation in finding and supporting solutions.
Thanks to our generous financial partners, we were able to supply our refugee church partners with these new bicycles this month. Kakuma refugee camp is huge (12 square miles) and neighboring Kalobeyei refugee settlement has made it even bigger. Getting around is slow and tough - especially so when the weather is harsh (i.e. extreme heat, high winds, torrential rains, etc.). By supplying pastors and Christian leaders with bicycles, we are helping them better serve their community - and thereby strengthening faith, hope and resilience s in the camp.
IAFR has been serving people in Kakuma refugee camp since 2010. About 195,000 people (mostly women and children) have found temporary refuge here from war, persecution and gross violations of human rights.
We visit Kakuma 2-3 times annually, during which time this blog is most active.
Visit the Kakuma page on the IAFR.org website to learn more!
We partner with United Refugee and Host Churches (URHC) - a refugee initiated association of over 160 churches from within the camp and surrounding host community.
We also partner with National Council of Churches Kenya (NCCK), an exceptional humanitarian agency.
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