World Refugee Day 2011
This year’s theme: “One refugee without hope is one too many.”
KANERE fully supports the theme of this year’s World Refugee Day. Hope is especially pertinent in protracted refugee situations. This day is dedicated to the millions of refugees and other forcibly displaced migrants in confined settlements or camped societies.
Kakuma commemorated the day on Saturday June 18th, 2011 with colorful skits, dances, plays and live bands from refugees and the host community. Officials from humanitarian agencies and government representatives delivered powerful speeches at Napata grounds in Kakuma 1 zone 2. Skits from refugees did acknowledge the vulnerability and hopelessness of social life in the camp. But they also emphasized that no matter how meaningless existence might feel at times many refugees still have hope and courage.
UNHCR launched the “Do 1 Thing” campaign in support of world refugee day. This initiative aims to foster and encourage support for World Refugee Day worldwide. Underlying these generalized goals is the expectation that refugees do one thing for themselves here in the camp. For thousands of refugees and asylum seekers, however, hope has died due to years of extreme vulnerability. The talent of individual refugees has not been nurtured. Indeed, refugees are discouraged from earning a livelihood without permits. And young people are rarely taught the skills to do so in the camp education system. Even though voluntary repatriation is only possible for Sudanese and Rwandan refugees in the camp, the Kenyan government is appealing the international community to reduce the number of the refugees it hosts.
Conflict in Somalia has left thousands dead and displaced millions to countries the world over. Kenya hosts the most refugees from the region. Over 10,000 asylum seekers cross its borders to seek safety and protection. Most of them are from war torn Somalia, the Great lakes regions, Sudan and Ethiopia. Dr. Mohamed Qassim, the UNHCR Head of Sub-Office in Kakuma, gave a speech addressing the conflict in Libya that is currently displacing a large number of people. Only 2% are estimated to go to Europe, with most fleeing for safety to other parts of the region. Many of these refugees are children. In fact, about 31% of asylum seekers globally are under 18 years of age.
The speech by the UNHCR Head of Sub-Office also highlighted some of the progress made during Dr. Qassim’s term, which ends this year in July. Over the past three years, Dr Qassim prioritized security as the cornerstone to improving programme implementation. “We have done so much together. I arrived in the camp when security was bad, when refugees were not able to sleep in their homes in peace but now they can have serenity in their homes,” said Dr. Mohamed Qassim in his speech. “As repatriation scales down, refugees and new arrivals expect programmes focused on service delivery,” he added.
The District Commissioner of Kakuma read a speech on behalf of the Honorable Minister of Ministry of State for Immigration and Registration. The District Commissioner praised the good relations between refugees and the host community that have developed over the past two years. The speech also emphasized the role of the Kenyan government in providing security and protection for refugees. “We used to have armed robbers attacking camp residents in 2006, 2007 and 2008. Currently the camp is free from attacks due to the collaborative work of security agencies. The camp is patrolled 24 hours to keep criminals out,” said the District Commissioner. “Kenya is providing asylum in accordance to international standards. The government also maintains law and order in the camps,” he added.
The Kakuma Camp Manager also presented a speech on behalf of the Ag. Commissioner for the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA). The speech noted that DRA has started the registration of refugees and asylum seekers and urged camp inhabitants to comply with the guidelines of the Kenyan Refugee Act of 2006. The Camp Manager stressed that “refugees are real people.”
The Dadaab refugee camp, designed to host 90,000 refugees, actually accommodates 355,000. It is the largest refugee warehouse in the world and is followed by the Kakuma refugee camp, which hosts 82,409. Other refugee populations are distributed in urban centers. The Kenyan Department of Refugee Affairs has taken over refugee registration from UNHCR in an attempt to play a bigger role in the governance of refugees within its territory. These forms of governance had been left to UNHCR for over 21 years. Kenya hosts about half a million refugees and has accepted the international obligation of admitting and offering protection to refugees. Kenya is a signatory to the 1951 Geneva Convention, the 1967 Protocol and 1969 Organization of African Union Convention, which have been domesticated into national law, and especially into the Refugee Act of 2006.
On World Refugee Day 2011, refugees held protests against police harassment in Nairobi. Peaceful demonstrations were held in the Eastleigh, Umoja and Kasarani areas of Nairobi to protest neglect by the government. Many refugees who live in urban centers of Kenya spoke with KANERE about the demonstrations in the Eastleigh area. “We are frequently arrested in these towns. They don’t care about our documents… We must bribe to survive,” said an anonymous refugee resident of Eastleigh.
Kituo Cha Sheria and the International Rescue Committee peace caravan conducted a road show in Eastleigh to promote awareness of the challenges urban refugees face. Kituo Cha Sheria has also been providing legal support to refugees and asylum seekers in urban Kenya.
When the situations in their countries of origin change all refugees will want to return home despite the corruption and poverty documented in many countries in Africa. Globally over 10 million refugees want nothing more than to go home. The lack of foreseeable durable solutions, however, remains one of the key challenges for refugees in Kenya and in the world at large.