UNHCR High Commissioner Visits Kakuma Camp
A two-day visit by Antonio Guterres, chief UNHCR Geneva, left a lot of unmet refugees’ expectations, including security, food rations, and fuel or firewood, Refugee Status Determination (RSD), health care, and camp lighting remained among several other untouched challenges of refugees in Kakuma camp.
UNHCR High Commissioner Antonio Guterres visited Kakuma Refugee Camp in northwestern Kenya on the 7th and 8th of September, 2010. During his visit he met with all the agencies and had an evening meeting with refugee community leaders, who used their time to present different issues from the community.
The camp currently hosts a population of 78,246 refugees (according to UNHCR reports at the end of September 2010). The refugees represent 14 nationalities across the continent who have fled internal conflicts in their home countries following power struggles, lack of democracy, and associated citizen rights abuses. Somalis form the majority of the population in Kakuma, along with a large population of Sudanese. Sudanese Darfurians and Somalis are both considered prima facie refugees. Asylees of all other nationalities go through Refugee Status Determination (RSD) in order to be recognized as refugees.
Refugees born in the camp are now 18 years old and are still facing challenges of citizenship. They are not issued with Kenya citizenship and still hold their parents’ nationalities. As a consequence, they lack documentation necessary to access jobs, medication, education and many others advantages that any Kenyan national deserves.
The High Commissioner was welcomed to Kakuma Camp with a Somali traditional dance from newly relocated Somali refugees from Daadab Camp. After the traditional performance, a Somali mother presented what seems to be common message of all refugees in the camp. “We left our country because of war and insurgents in the country. We are also facing the insecurity, the melting sun and food rations are poor and little. We need your help,” she told the Commissioner. The Commissioner’s visit focused on the EDP-Portugal, Energie De Portugal Or Energy Development of Portugal. The Commissioner was taken around Kakuma Town at around 9:00pm where he was shown the 10 street lights. “This solar lighting project was first initiated in Kakuma so that determination can be made if such initiatives can be established in other refugee camps,” said Marge Gorge, the UNHCR EDP – Portugal, Kakuma.
The project is expected to light the refugee camp using solar panels, thus meeting the camp’s lighting requirements. The project has fixed the street lights a few meters away from the refugee camp. Refugees wait eagerly to have these lights installed more widely, as they believe the lighting will contribute to camp security control. “It is good to have lights through the whole night in the camp, especially in the areas which gunmen use when they attack and kill refugees,” said a Rwandan Sudanese Nubian refugee.
In past years, the camp has often experienced armed robbery attacks which take the lives of refugees. Refugees believe that lighting may be one of the security supports necessary to control these attacks. It is not known when the lights will be put in the camp or how long these lights will last. The news from refugees who are closer to the project said that preparations are almost finished, but the community has remarked on fear of damages when the project starts in the camp.
According to refugees in the camp, many refugee shops are targeted to be demolished in order to leave more space for these lights. The targeted buildings have already been officially marked with a label (X) in red and green colors symbolizing that it won’t fit along the marked pathway. Shops which value from 100,000 to 1,000,000 Kenyan shillings have been marked to be destroyed in this exercise. There is no compensation that will be given to the shop owners of the shop, nor has anybody involved these stakeholders in the project planning. This raises fears about whether the project will be accepted widely by the refugees. “Yes, we need light, but if it takes our own toils for years we spent in the camp, let it stay,” a refugee tutor in computer training center told KANERE.
The Sun-Ok Cooker can do a range of activities such as cooking food, lighting the streets and houses, and providing power for use in offices. Refugee women would benefit from this project if each one will be given light in her own home. Cases of rape, beating and other abuses inflicted in the homes or while women are collecting firewood in the local camp and surrounding villages will be ameliorated.
In his meeting with refugee community leaders, Mr. Antonio Guterres promised to add General Services Unit (GSU) police to strengthen security organs in the camp. He also promised to add a secondary school, but he did not answer questions regarding the long stays of refugees who have languished in the camp for more than a decade, nor did he address the performance of the UNHCR protection services and decision-making bodies on the ground.