Delays in Resettlement Process Leave Refugees Lingering
Volume 1, Issue 4-5 / March-April 2009
Refugees face anxiety and uncertainty while awaiting feedback on resettlement cases that are unexpectedly delayed.
Resettlement to another country is the only durable solution in sight for thousands of refugees warehoused in Kakuma Camp with no immediate prospects of returning home. Consequently, an interview for the UNHCR resettlement process brings refugees immediate hope for starting a new and better life abroad.
Files of refugees who fulfill the criteria for resettlement are sent by UNHCR to various foreign embassies that offer refugee resettlement, such as the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. After considering the case, an embassy sends an approval letter to the refugee stating the approximate date of interview. Representatives of foreign embassies periodically visit Kakuma Camp to interview prospective cases for resettlement.
Refugees receive a letter from an embassy with great joy. Usually, they expect to sit for the interview within six months after the letter’s date of issue, and expect to leave the camp around one year later.
But this timeframe does not always unfold as hoped. Many refugees wait more than six months before being scheduled for an interview with the embassy. Others wait for more than two years after the interview before leaving the camp.
While waiting, refugees endure great worry and anxiety over the delays to their case, struggling to obtain information from authorities on the status of their case.
“I was so desperate”
Christian* is a Congolese man who received an approval letter from the Canadian Embassy in May, 2006. He sat for an interview with the Canadian Embassy that June, and completed his medical check-ups in December, 2006. After clearing the medical screening, he hoped to leave the camp soon.
However, he waited without feedback for two years, only to be told that he had to pass through medical check-ups again in 2008. After receiving another medical clearance, he was instructed to wait until March 2009 to finally leave Kakuma Camp for Canada.
Christian reports that he never received adequate information on the delay of his case. “Many times I asked IOM [the International Organization for Migration] to tell me why my case was taking long, but I was always told to wait until the Canadian Embassy sent a message,” he states.
After waiting several months, he began to send email messages to the Canadian Embassy. The Embassy responded to some messages, and ignored others. The answer was always the same: to continue waiting.
Fortunately, Christian’s indefinite waiting period ended in February of this year, when he was told that visas for him and his family were ready and they would be flown to Canada very soon.
Some days before his departure, I asked Christian to tell me what it was like to wait for such a long period. “I was so desperate during those three years,” he says, remembering the pain he experienced. “It is only by God’s mercy that I and my family have been able to see this dream realized.” Certainly, he and his family were frustrated and depressed during their three years of waiting.
Waiting for a chance at a better life
Musimba* is a 66-year old Congolese man living with his wife and five children in Kakuma. He received his approval letter from the Canadian Embassy in October 2006. Since then, he has never sat for an interview with the Canadian Embassy.
In February 2008, his name appeared on a list of people called to meet with officers from the Canadian Embassy. Unfortunately, some days before his appointed interview, he was told that the interview was cancelled because the officer evaluating his file was not able to travel to Kakuma. He was instructed to wait until his name appeared again on the board.
The Canadian Embassy has visited Kakuma on more than two occasions since then, but Musimba’s name has not appeared on the list of appointments. Instead, he claims, the lists are full of refugees who received approval letters in 2007 and 2008.
Musimba reports that he has complained many times to the UNHCR Resettlement Officer over his case’s indefinite delay. He always receives the same response: to wait until the Canadian Embassy calls him.
This situation has caused much disturbance to Musimba and his family. He already suffers from high blood pressure and his health has deteriorated during the length of the long waiting period. On many occasions, his blood pressure has escalated and he has been given drugs to help him relax and sleep. He reports that he does not like to think about his case because every time he does, his blood pressure rises.
Musimba’s wife is deeply unsettled by her family’s situation. She says that whenever she thinks about their case, she is filled with sadness and worry for her children. She does not like to see the years passing and her children growing older without having a chance to attend good schools, seek good jobs, and reach for a better life.
A bigger problem
The stories of Christian and Musimba are not the only ones to be observed in Kakuma Camp. Many refugees have received approval letters from foreign embassies—not only Canada, but from many other resettlement countries—but continue waiting for interviews, medical checkups, and flight.
In all cases the question for refugees remains the same: why is my case taking so long? Do the embassies see that their unexplained delays cause refugees to suffer profound uncertainty?
Refugees have no power to push their cases forward. They do not even have power to demand information on why their case is being delayed. But refugees desperately need to know the reasons for their case delays, and wonder whether embassies really consider the hardships they endure in the camp.
KANERE attempted to reach the resettlement office of UNHCR for comment, but could not access the compound.
*Not their real names