Increased population in Kakuma camp
An influx of new arrivals from Sudan, South Sudan, Great Lakes and other countries and for the first time an Iranian
Twenty one years ago Kakuma Camp was established with an initial capacity of 100,000 to temporarily accommodate thousands of refugees fleeing the civil war in Sudan.
For a very long time it has been one of the most cosmopolitan camps in the world. It has accommodated refugees and other forced migrants from East Africa, the Horn of Africa, Central African Republic, Great Lakes region and other parts of the world.
As of mid-May, there were a total of 95,300 refugees and asylum seekers in the camp. Somali refugees account for just over a half and Sudanese and South Sudanese are one third of the total camp population. The remaining refugees come from: Burundi, Ethiopia, DRC Congo, Uganda, Eritrea, Darfur, Tanzania, Cote d’Ivoire and Iran.
Between 2006–2008, South Sudanese refugees in Kakuma were repatriating voluntarily following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement between North and South Sudan in Naivasha, Kenya on 9th January 2005. In accordance with this agreement, a referendum was held on 9th January 2011 in which South Sudan voted for separation from the North. 9th July 2011 marked South Sudan’s Independence Day but unfortunately this was later followed by unrest between the two nations due to unresolved political issues. Conflicts along the border have escalated leading to great tension and loss of life.
Since early 2012, Kakuma has been receiving spontaneous new arrivals, many of them people who had been there before. Those who repatriated home from Kenyan camps, urban centers and neighboring countries were hoping for a better life and an opportunity to find a place to call home for the second time after decades at war; sadly that hope and desired future did not last for long. People from Sudan and South Sudan are the majority of those crossing the border to Kenya at Lokichogio on a daily basis; however, refugees from across the neighboring countries of eastern Africa are also fleeing politically motivated events to find safety in Kenya.
More than 7,800 people arrived in Kakuma between January and May 2012, as indicated at the Camp’s Reception Center. Over 76% of these refugees are from South Sudan and Sudan. In an interview many of the asylum seekers stated that they fled recent communal violence in South Sudan’s Jonglei State, citing indiscriminate killings, cattle rustling and burning of houses as reasons for their plight.
Families were reportedly separated in the chaos, including many children and women. Some stated that villages in Jonglei are completely abandoned. “I fled from Mankeen in Unity State when I heard gunshots in the dead of the night, that morning we were also bombed by military plane,” said Nyakwoth*, a mother of nine children, speaking to a KANERE journalist at the Department of Refugee Affairs on registration at Kakuma.
Others fled for fear that the situation will worsen as violence was rapidly increasing in the region. “Revenge attack is mostly what has forced us to flee to Kakuma for the second time,” said an old man from Sudan at Kakuma 3 new settlement block.
Among the recent new arrivals are people from Sudan’s South Kordofan, where they claimed fighting has been raging for months between the Sudanese Armed Forces – Khartoum and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement (SPLM) – North. Some fled first to South Sudan but moved further towards the border with Kenya at Lokichogio since they claimed that South Sudan also came under attack by the Sudanese Armed Forces. Some new arrivals said that they had walked for 2 to 3 months before they got safely to Kakuma camp.
“I walked from Mortot to Madingbor for one month with my relatives, I left my wife and a newly born child at Pieri, I don’t know if they were killed,” said J. Gatkuoth.
“We walked for several days to Juba. A good Samaritan assisted us with transportation to Kakuma camp while others did not complete the arduous journey,” added a family of minors.
The new arrivals are being hosted at Kakuma Camp Reception Center, which has a capacity of 700 people but has at times housed more than 1,800 new arrivals during February to May. For instance on 6th April alone, 86 asylum seekers of various nationalities were received at the Refugee Reception Center in Kakuma 3.
UNHCR has been able to decongest the center by fast tracking registration and moving new arrivals to the camp settlement areas where they are provided with food rations and relief supplies. The DRA office facilitates the registration for new arrivals before they are referred to UNHCR for further registration in detail, including their reasons for flight.
The process of moving through reception to the relocation areas and provision of shelter is supposed to take not more than two weeks, though this does not always happen. Shelter inadequacies, lack of timely provision and poor organization leave refugees exposed and vulnerable. “We were told to build walls 3 months ago; my children are still living in the tent. The sun is burning in this plastic,” said H. Biyamungu, who arrived in February. “I cannot make a wall; can I be given a ready house by Shelter office?” asked a mother of 4 children at Kakuma 3 zone 3 block 2.
Camp governors are taking some measures like: expansion of settlement areas at Kakuma 3/4, increasing capacity and resources to assist the influx of newcomers to Kakuma camp. KANERE approached UNHCR Sub-Office Kakuma for comment which was not possible.
Asylum seekers from the Great Lakes region and Ethiopia complain of political violence and persecution. In Ethiopia, the Oromos who constitute the largest ethnic group in the country suffer severe political problems, detention and torture from the Federal Government of Ethiopia. “My husband was killed at home by security forces in 2011. His brother went missing later. I escaped after being tortured and threatened,” said Tharartu Galgalo at UNHCR Reception Kakuma.
Some Ethiopians from Gambella region stated they were forced to leave after their farmlands were seized and leased to a private company for 99 years by the Ethiopian Government. “I was told to evacuate from my farm by a government official who alleged that my plot falls partly on the demarcated land to be given to a private company,” said Nyaluak Gat who arrived in Kakuma on 6th February 2012.
From DRC Congo some asylum seekers escaped gunfire in North Kivu province following indiscriminate killings and disappearances. “I was raped by militants; my husband was killed after he was forcefully arrested. My son was to be taken for a child soldier,” narrated a widow in an interview with a KANERE journalist.
Many of the South Sudanese are from Jonglei state (Wuror District) while others are from Langken, also in Jonglei, where tribal conflicts between Nuer, Murle and Dinka started with cattle rustling. As the tribal leaders are also government officials in South Sudan, the issue became politicized. This problem escalated to the extent they started fighting and children as well as cows were stolen from the opposing groups. “In Jonglei state, when we don’t have other conflict with opponent tribes of different states, we have to fight each other just to keep continuation of stealing cattle and children,” an anonymous prior resident of Jonglei stated at Kakuma camp.
Asylum seekers from North Sudan include Nubians from South Kordofan and Masalit from the Darfur region who have been arriving in Kakuma Camp in large numbers since January 2012. Residents of Kadugli District of South Kordofan stated that they were bombed by the Sudanese Air Force, forcing hundreds of them to flee. “The killings, roar of dangerous machine guns, air armed forces bombing threatened our life. My siblings were killed there,” said Ibrahim Kulal, a Nubian who arrived on 16th February 2012.
In March 2012 UNHCR moved some refugees directly from their homes. 80 Sudanese Nubian families were moved by airbus to Kakuma airstrip to relocate them into Kakuma camp. This action seems to be designed to encourage the existence of refugee camps.
UNHCR should not uproot people from their homes by going directly to the interior of their home country in the name of refugee protection as in the case of the Sudanese Nubians. The UN Refugee Agency should rather focus on the closure of all refugee camps, instead of perpetuating the existence of warehousing.
As the problems in Sudan and South Sudan persist and many of the new arrivals at Kakuma are old refugees who were there before, KANERE appeals to the United Nations to put more effort into finding a concrete solution to the problem of countries in East Africa which force their citizens to flee their homes due to political violence.
*All names are not real!