Intermarriage in Refugee Communities
Volume 1, Issue 4-5 / March-April 2009
An opinion piece on intermarriages between refugee communities and the “luck of love”
In every society, there is a set of cultural norms that guide people. These are socially constructed cultural regulations made by human beings and enhanced by cultures, traditions, religions, and beliefs; teaching people how to behave, what to do, what to welcome, accept or reject in that society. In many cases, these same cultural norms and regulations become barriers or enabling criteria for someone to be accepted as a son or daughter-in-law.
Marriage is a union from God, between two persons, and no one has a right to violate this union as long as the two love each other. Marriage creates togetherness and cements the relationship of people from different backgrounds.
Furthermore, everyone has a right to marry according to Article 16 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states that individuals have the right to freely choose who to marry or who to be married to, and should not to be coerced into marriage.
While some cultures respect this right to marital union, others interfere with the well-being of married couples. It can be observed that the right to freely choose who to marry is not respected in some refugee communities in Kakuma. Instead, parents or relatives assume the right to decide a marriage on behalf of their boys or girls, selecting their desired in-laws.
They do so because their cultural norms taught them to degrade others instead of appreciating their cultures and individual status. The result is often to misunderstand and simplify others only because they believe their own culture to be special and choose to deny association with people from other backgrounds. These cultures are greedy and cultivate political interests which contradict world peace. Members of these societies have no choice but to obey social rules for fear of being isolated as an outcast.
Illiterate communities hold on to their cultures by insisting that their boys and girls are strictly subjected to marriage with a partner chosen by the parents. But this case is not the same for educated communities who do not impose such cultural rules, regulations, and norms on considerations of marriage.
Despite their cultures, traditions, and religious beliefs, some individuals in Kakuma choose to engage in intermarriage. Some cases of intermarriage are successful, and these depend on how people from both concerned communities are educated and how they have been brought up.
But due to various cultural forces, intermarriages between two persons from different national communities in Kakuma Camp are often unsuccessful. I would estimate that only 2 or 3 percent of intermarriages are lasting. Unfortunately, it appears that a majority of intermarriages are tied to hidden motives. You may find a Congolese engaging in marriage with a Sudanese—or among any other communities—without regard for their partner’s origins, tribe, or religion, simply because one has a resettlement process that the other wants to take advantage of. In such cases, partners do not consider the reality of love.
The great question in intermarriages inspired by resettlement is what will become of the couple’s future. We have witnessed a number of broken intermarriages ending in two forms. The first is found in the case of couples who succeed in being resettled. After reaching abroad, one partner detaches him or herself, claiming that s/he only wanted to reach a foreign country and now has no reason to continue the relationship. The second is found in the case of couples who do not succeed to be resettled. These couples remain in the camp and I have observed that the relationship usually ends in failure.
But some intermarriages are successful because they are inspired by love rather than resettlement. Some of these couples have been together for more than ten years and live peacefully in the camp. Others have even been resettled and continue to live together in harmony.
The luck of love is stronger than anything, even more binding than money, culture, tradition, and religion. Since the luck of love can happen to people anywhere in the world, why not also to refugees in Kakuma Camp?