World Refugee Day
Theme of the year: One person forced to flee is too many!
World Refugee Day was established by the United Nations in 2000 to honor the courage, determination and hope of the millions of men, women, children who have been forced into exile. It is dedicated to raising awareness of the situation of refugees throughout the world; a very sad moment in which to remember the history of refugee communities who had been forced to flee their countries to find safety and protection in foreign lands.
The theme for WRD 2012 was “One person forced to flee is too many!” KANERE supports this year’s theme as: “One refugee warehoused is one too many!”
Kakuma camp, established 21 years ago, is an example of warehousing. It has three major settlement sections which are about five kilometers apart, and currently accommodates refugees from: North Sudan, South Sudan, Somalia, Ethiopia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Burundi, Rwanda, Eritrea, Uganda, Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire and an Iranian. According to UNHCR, in April 2012 the camp population stood at 96,535. New arrivals are still coming to Kakuma as bombings, border conflicts and communal conflicts continue in North and South Sudan, while in Somalia violent battles and suicide attacks by Al-Shabaab insurgents forced thousands of women and children to seek safety on Kenyan soil. By the end of June, the camp population was estimated to have risen to 105,000. There are few opportunities for camp inhabitants to return to their homes, or to be resettled elsewhere, and most will be there for the long term.
Thousands of refugees and the camp authorities turned up to commemorate World Refugee Day at Napata ground in Kakuma camp. Yet many of the refugees and the camp authorities did not seem to understand the significance of the day as they cheered the most celebrated day of the year in 2012.
Most of the refugees had to walk up to five kilometers to Napata ground where the function was held. They had to stand waiting in the hot sun of the desert to participate in the function while humanitarian NGOs were seated in the shade. The NGO officials were also served with cold refreshments, while refugees blocked at the entrance stood in the sun trying to catch a glimpse of what was happening on the stage. “Is it a celebration or commemoration; for who is the World Refugee Day meant?” A question that lingers in many people’s minds.
The programme consisted of different songs and dances by refugee groups, interspersed with speeches made by the camp governing authorities. The camp residents also dramatized how Kenya welcomes refugees at the border points. The actors showed how police brutally assaulted asylum seekers before they were rescued.
“Today reminds refugees of our flight. It is very sad that we had no option in life, however, I am thankful about the support both UNHCR and Kenya government is providing,” said a Somali refugee leader about the event.
An official from the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) – Kakuma, made a speech on the security situation stating that several thefts have been reported in the camp. The DRA official emphasized more cohesive patrols need to be carried out both day and night to have peaceful coexistence. “We want to have a peaceful camp. Police foot patrols will start soon and we can eliminate thefts within,” said the Kakuma Camp Manager.
The Refugee Consortium of Kenya – a local NGO manager also spoke on the need for better protection for refugees in Kenya. “In Kenya refugees have rights. We advocate that their legal protection is upheld while they live in Kenya,” he said.
Mr. Guy Avognon, the new UNHCR Head of Sub-Office at Kakuma who succeeded Dr. Mohamed Qassim in 2011, made his first speech addressing the World Refugee Day at Kakuma. Mr. Avognon expressed his support for the humanitarian partners of UNHCR’s operation in the camp, and his appreciation of the efforts by groups of refugee volunteers who have fixed the ongoing problem of the river bed that eroded away many refugee settlement sections in Kakuma 1. “I am amazed by the efforts from the refugee community, they have gone far. I’d want the NGOs to take it up from where they stopped to complete that project,” the UNHCR Head appealed.
WRD commemorations are also held in the urban centers of Nairobi where refugees live in limbo. Most refugees and asylum seekers don’t have official papers and are thus exposed to police harassment, extortion of bribes and corruption where police would not want to bother about refugees’ documents; however the Kenya government has taken safeguarding measures towards refugee protection by issuing refugees in camps and urban centers with Alien Certificates.
To read more on the perspectives of the camp residents, go to the Community Talking Point section to find the latest hot topic on World Refugee Day.