I do not know Abdullahi Diriye. He is the MP for Wajir South in Kenya. He wrote a piece for The Daily Nation that addresses only half of a complicated issue without offering humane solutions. He points at a very real problem without suggesting tangible actions to care for 500,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia, who are at the mercy of the UNHCR and the world. The content and attitude of his article made me upset.
This was the headline: “Dadaab Refugees Making our Lives a Misery”
“Kenya’s continued support for humanitarian efforts in the Horn of Africa is both anchored in, and justified by, our international obligations and the spirit of solidarity with fellow Africans displaced from their homelands by wars. As host to the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab, in which over 500,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia, have lived there for well over two decades now, the neighbouring Kenyan communities continue to suffer serious socio-economic, environmental and security challenges, which call for urgent intervention. The already scarce resources, fragile nomadic-pastoral lifestyle and the often volatile security situation in the region, have all been made worse by a refugee population whose continued presence is increasingly burdensome, and whose basic needs are largely un-met by a donor community that is, apparently, fatigued and under-resourced.”
When the Dadaab refugee camps were constructed in the early 1990’s they were intended for use by 90,000 people. No one imagined that 500,000 would find themselves in need and that it would become the largest refugee camp in the world. They were thought to be temporary. They are still in use three decades later. No one intends to need refuge; no one desires to be labeled a refugee. The events leading to refugee status are always life and death in nature; they are dire, and we in America cannot imagine leaving a home, with those around us killed, and walking across a desert and arriving in complete and total need. Imagine.
I have never been to Dadaab. I can only imagine. But I know my imagination is not fertile enough to accurately create the daily, yearly, decades long feeling of a life in Dadaab. I met eight people in 2011 that live there, who traveled to Nairobi to tell their story in a theatre piece for World Refugee Day. They were not actors. They were brave souls who dared to involve themselves in the experience of hope with some Americans. The cost of being heard still resonates with all involved to this very day.
That I still communicate with five members of what we called The Dadaab Theatre Project three years later is a miracle. That some have been able to leave Dadaab is a blessing. One has returned to Somalia. That I have been able to spend time with two of them while in Kenya is astounding. Peter still lives in the camp with his wife and children and his sister and her family, and although he gets an occasional movement pass to leave the camp, his identity is defined as a refugee in Kenya. (Peter) (Also Peter)Although Ojullu is in secondary school in Thika, he must always return to the camp between sessions. He is not a Kenyan, and he can’t return to his homeland. He is defined as a refugee in Kenya. (Ojullu) (Also Ojullu) In the camp they are given monthly rations and water is a constant need. There is no employment. Most of us would struggle physically and emotionally if we had to spend 24 hours in the camp.
Today in the newspaper I read the concerns of the MP: “Two key concerns in this regard are security and environmental degradation through deforestation. Over the years, sections of the refugee population have been engaging in unrestricted harvesting of trees and shrubs. This they do, not only to meet their energy needs, but also for construction of shelter and for sale. This has been happening for more than two decades. Unmitigated destruction of the already scanty vegetation has led to catastrophic consequences. The main reason that drives the refugee community to destroy our environment is because UNHCR is not providing enough to cater for their basic needs.”
Energy. Shelter. Water. Dadaab is run on donations. The UN (UNHCR is the United Nations High Commission for Refugees), and CARE, and Save the Children, and other non-governmental organizations are the lifeline to Dadaab. His reference to donor fatigue and lack of resources is accurate. Tomorrow I could write about Syria. Or South Sudan. Or Central African Republic. Or.
This is the sentence that broke my heart: “As an elected representative of a huge population whose lives and livelihoods have been adversely affected by the refugee presence, I am demanding that the environmental destruction cease immediately, and appropriate measures be taken to remedy the situation.” Energy. Shelter. Water. And you write in the newspaper CEASE IMMEDIATELY? Cease living? Cease existing? Cease drinking?
It breaks my heart because it is easy to say ‘Close the camps.’ ‘Stop it.’ But the human race has a history of failing to solve the problems we create.
I have no answers, but I now have more awareness. And so do you.
Help one when you can’t help many.