closing Dabaab

The Kenyan government’s recent proposal for closing Dabaab refugee camps will lead to ubiquitous effects on the country and countless individuals.

Located near Garissa, the town of Dabaab is the base for five UNHCR refugee camps that collectively house 329,811 refugees in Kenya. It by far the largest and most expansive refugee camp in the world. The majority of its occupants are Somalis who have fled endless persecution owing to the Somali Civil war and the growing momentum of the Al-Qaeda affiliated militant group, Al-Shabbab.

The Kenyan government’s mounting concern over its resources and national security has impacted this decision. With the 2013 assault on Westgate Mall and the massacre on Garissa University last year, the influence of Al-Shabbab has only grown. Dabaab has consequently become the epicenter of religious radicalization and militant recruitment in Kenya.

The announcement for closing Dabaab has been strongly condemned by Amnesty International and many foreign donors as it only exacerbates the situation and places the refugees at even more risk.

Ahmed Ahwad, Somalia’s ambassador to the U.S. has termed this proposal “logistically impractical” as resettlement and repatriation would be an incredibly tedious process which would sever the ties of goodwill that have been forged between Somalia and Kenya.

However, the U.N. High Commissioner of Refugees, Fillipo Grandi had a contrasting reaction. He visited Dabaab on June 10 and engaged in talks with Kenyan Prime Minister, Uluru Kenyatta, and confirmed the engagement and support of the UNHCR. The talks also involved increasing repatriation packages coupled with the provision of aid and basic services during resettlement.

Furthermore, Mr. Grandi’s discussions with Somali President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud focused on improving living conditions and amplifying investments to Somalia.

A recent success for the repatriation program came to light when 237 Somali refugees left a Dabaab airstrip on June 14, 2016. A majority of them were women and children. Despite initial trepidation, many refugees feel that security in Somalia has improved and that resettlement may be a great way to resume their lives again.

This is majorly due to the fact that the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) has made great progress by providing humanitarian support and working with the African Union and the U.N. They have protected many vulnerable groups and are currently working collaboratively with the Ethiopian National Defence forces (ENDF) to destabilize Al-Shabbab.

Additionally, the recent talks that were held between Mr.Uhuru and the United Nations Security Council ( UNSC) on May 21 have spearheaded the formation of a “task force” focused on dealing with refugee management. This aims to make the resettlement program more efficient and readdress closing Dabaab.

This major leap will only aggravate the insurmountable pressure in Europe owing to the migrant crisis. The sudden influx from Kenya may be a threat to the sovereignty and national security in some countries. The recent World Humanitarian Summit accentuates these facts.

Even though the pressure on the Kenyan economy will be alleviated, Kenya will still be held in contempt for not fulfilling a necessary international obligation owing to its proximity with Somalia. The growing turbulence in many parts of Africa may only hinder the resettlement program.

Shivani Ekkanath

Photo: Flickr