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The burden of hosting refugees and the mess that is Dadaab closure

By Ahmed Abdi Hassan:

dadaab refugees return home-nepjournal

Some refugee families line up to board a plane back home in this file photo.

Kenya the generous country in the eastern part of Africa hosted refugees from different countries mainly from neighboring Somalia in Dadaab for than two decades hoping that one day in history they will return to their country distorted by tribal and civil war.

In summary, Somalia is as old as Stone Age, inhabited mainly by people of Somali origin. The country fought the British colonialists under the able leadership of the renowned Somali king Sayyid Mohammed Abdullah Hassan (Mad Mullah) until the birth of Somalia democratic republic in 1960 that fell in 1991 under the leadership of Mohamed Siyad Barre which forced Somalis to flee to Kenya for refuge leading to the opening of Dadaab refugee camp, the largest of its kind in the world.

The Dadaab refugee camp in the North Eastern part of the country is a semi-arid area that spreads from Hagardera and Kambioos camps in Fafi to Dagahley of Dadaab constituency that borders Wajir South of the greater Wajir County.

Game meat, deforestation and insecurity was associated to the camp. Loss of trees in the area and its environs had an adverse effect on the lives of the people of Dadaab and Wajir South. Despite, the education level of the host communities, environmental degradation was visible with no effort employed to mitigate.

Local non-governmental agencies coming from the area are tasked to provide firewood to the refugees causing deforestation instead, of venturing on other cheaper source of energy for cooking like stove and gas cookers. In the expense to sustain the camps, residents are forced to travel far places in search of firewood that leaves women and girls vulnerable to violence and rape as they journey to and from.

The ancient drought resistant trees like Acacia tortilis (Qurac), Acacia bussed (Galool) Terminalia prunioides (Hareeri), Cordia sinensis (Mareer) Dobera glabra (Garas) are no more, as they are used for charcoal and construction to meet the rampant increasing population of the camps due to the drought in northern Kenya and lower juba of Somalia.

A donkey carries firewood at Dadaab-nepjournal

Donkey carts ferrying firewood to Dadaab. Photo/File/Nepjournal

The charcoal and sugar contraband business is estimated to be worth around $400 million (Sh41 billion) in the port of Kismayo which continuously lure the poor people.

The little food ration in camps attracted many poor disadvantage Kenyan Somalis of the host community particularly from Wajir South and Dadaab constituency that resulted them to end up in the refugee database with their finger prints fully captured.

I met Ali, not his real name, a Kenya Somali aged mid 20’s from Wajir South heading to Dagahley with his well packed firewood on his donkey cart and started a conversation sometimes back, he told me that he applied for Kenya national identity card for more than 9 times and was rejected because his finger prints were found in the UNHCR refugee database. This condemned him to a destitute life as he cannot study nor work. No doubt many goodies accompanied the camps like job creation for Kenyan citizens but the disadvantages outweigh the advantages.

Closure of the camp was another nightmare for many as some individuals have reported that the anxiety caused by the Kenyan government constantly threatening to shut down the camps is enough to persuade them to leave, but that was never good news for Dahaba, not her real name, an elderly single mother of 8 from Garissa who has never seen Somalia but ended up in the UNHCR database to access food rations to make ends meet.

The Dadaab closure will no doubt leave a trail of destruction in its aftermath. Restoration of the environment and provision of alternative sources of income for the thousands of host community members relying on the camp economically in one way or the other should be prioritized vis a vis the return of the refugees to their home country.

As efforts to close the camp gain momentum, let the community and the NGOs stop the environmental degradation and advocate for other source of energy and building materials. Our environment is our money and our money is our environment! Let’s protect it by any cost and means. Let’s also identify our families in the refugee database and help them out.

The writer is an Environmental Research Scientist at King Fahd University of Petroleum & Minerals, Saudi Arabia 

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