No quick fix to Horn of Africa’s refugee crisis

The heat in Kenya’s Dadaab camp is unbearable, it is dusty and the only vegetation is a few shrubs. It is depressing, but it is home for thousands of Somalis.

Dadaab camp in Kenya, the largest refugee camp in the world, is full. 

Opened in the early 90s, it was meant to hold 90,000 people, but it now ‘houses’ about 400,000 with many of the early arrivals still living in the camp. 

More people from Somalia stream in, escaping the prolonged drought and the conflict in their home country.

Dadaab is one of the poorest areas in Kenya. The heat is unbearable, it is dusty and the only vegetation is a few shrubs. It is depressing but it is home for thousands of Somalis.

They get tents, food, and water from aid agencies, the basics to survive until they can return home whenever peace returns to conflict-ridden Somalia.

As people try to find any patch of shade, under an aid worker’s car for example, I look in the distance at buildings painted in white with their noticeable sky blue roofs. I’m curious – what are these building doing literally in the middle of nowhere?

I’m told that’s Ifo 2 camp better permanent structures built by aid agencies to cater for the growing refugee population. It was meant to be open to the refugee population a while ago but that hasn’t happened. 

Some Kenyan politicians feel making refugees from Somalia more comfortable will encourage them to stay. 

I see their point. Dadaab camp was opened in the early 90s and many of the early arrivals are still here! 

Some Kenyans in the area tell me they are tired of what they call the refugee problem. They compete with Somalis for scarce resources and blame the rise in crime on the “foreigners”.

Goodness, I thought I’d witnessed enough xenophobia in South Africa against Zimbabweans and other African nationals. Sadly it is here too.

So how should the government of Kenya deal with this? The conflict in Somalia isn’t letting up, thus people won’t be returning home anytime soon.

So preventing people who need help from living slightly better in their ‘host country’ might not be the best route to take.

Some will eventually make their way to Eastleigh in Nairobi anyway, get used to the city life and stay. There is no quick fix to the refugee problem.

I don’t envy Kenyan politicians. But as long as the international community keeps seeing images of emaciated Somalis, dying children and exhausted women, pressure is mounting to receive their neighbours from the North.

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