KIRUKU: From Kenya to al-Shabaab’s bloody arms: which way for refugees?

Kenya is at it again. No retreat, no compassion. Some say it’s a merciless stand, others see justification in safeguarding the country’s security. At the end of it all, the largest refugee camp in the world – the Daadab refugee complex – will be no more.

The pleas of the international community have fallen on deaf ears, consigning 300,000 refugees to an uncertain future that they must soon face back in war-ravaged Somalia.

The Kenyan government claims that it has spent over USD7 billion to date in maintaining the refugees, a huge burden to its taxpayers.

The government says it has set aside USD10 million to repatriate the refugees; a task force to oversee the process is already in place.

The Kenyan government had also expressed its desire to close down the refugee camps last year, but this was put on hold after a lot of international pressure.

Kenya has been complaining of an increased security threat posed by the escalating refugee numbers in the country. According to the government, the Dadaab complex had become a centre for recruitment, radicalisation and training for the al-Shaabab terrorist group.

It is claimed that the planning and execution of the Westgate terrorist attack – which left 67 people dead and scores injured – was traced to Daadab. This is the case with several other attacks as well.

Most of the refugees come from Somalia, which has not known peace for the past 25 years. And even though Kenyan authorities claim that Somalia is now safer than it was when the conflict began, the world knows it is still not safe –especially for women and children who will be bound to bear the brunt of the violence and clan wars.

Kenyan leaders complain of lack of international support, yet running the Department of Refugee Affairs was proving too costly for the country. The government has taunted developed countries who cannot host even 10,000 Syrian refugees, yet Kenya at one time gave refuge to up to a million people.

One can sympathise with this position, seeing that lack of support by the rich West – while at the same time pressurising Kenya to reconsider its decision – is insincere and hypocritical.

The responsibility of taking care of refugees should not be a burden for a host country. It is the duty of the international community, donor partners and the United Nations to ensure that host countries are adequately supported and compensated for taking this huge burden.

There have been spiralling terrorist attacks in Kenya carried out by al-Shabaab militants. Hundreds have died, while thousands have been injured and property worth millions of dollars destroyed. Yet, the international community has turned a blind eye to Kenya’s concerns.

Instead of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) addressing Kenya’s concerns, it is warning the country that its actions violate its international obligations to people in need of sanctuary.

Other human rights bodies have also claimed that deportations would punish innocent people and may violate international as well as Kenyan law. While all these may be so, the same human rights watch bodies must also listen and highlight to the international community the concerns of the host country.

The world must remember that in the aftermath of the Second World War, countries of the world agreed to protect refugees through the 1951 refugee convention and through UN agencies such as UNHCR; this was a global agreement that must be adhered to in order to respect human life.

The developed countries have a duty to ease the burden on less developed host countries by taking some of the most vulnerable refugees for resettlement. UNHCR has over time urged developed nations to help share the burden by increasing the number of resettlement places they can offer, with little or no success.

Since most of the refugees are found in war torn regions in Africa, the developed countries must financially support host countries on the continent if the challenge of refugees is to be handled in a humane way.

Moreover, even as we pursue protection for refugees, the critical issue of peace, conflict and security must be tackled. Conflict and insecurity are the major causes for refugees, making it imperative to resolve conflict before they escalate into full-blown wars.

By Anne Kiruku 

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