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Kenya marks World Refugee Day amid insecurity fears
Saturday, June 23, 2012

Kenya marked the World Refugee Day on Wednesday as the East African nation grapples with increased insecurity as a result of attacks from militia group Al-Shabaab.

Kenya ’s Minister of State for Immigration and Registration of Persons Otieno Kajwang said Kenya ’s intervention in Somalia is part of the measures the country has taken in order to find a lasting solution to the refugee problem.

Speaking during the celebrations to mark the Day in Nairobi, Kajwang said Kenya’s involvement in the Horn of Africa nation under the aegis of African Union Mission in Somalia to neutralize the militia group, the Al-Shabaab, is a long term measure aimed at curbing the large number of refugees that has been crossing into Kenya in search of a safe haven from armed conflict.

“Kenya remains fully committed to a humanitarian solution to the refugee problems even under difficult circumstances. Our involvement in Somalia should be taken as search for a long term solution to the refugee crisis that has been with us for the last two decades,” the minister said.

Kajwang’ attributed the cause of refugee crisis around the world partly to failure by political leaders to resolve their differences through dialogue, adding that Kenya has borne the consequences of such failure which has in the process contributed to the displacement of 600,000 Somalis who have sought for refuge in the country.

“Somalis have become a protracted refugee situation for Kenya and the international community for over two decades and it is now time the situation was addressed once and for all.”

The East African nation moved into Somalia last October after incursions into the country by the militia resulted into kidnapping of local and foreign nationals.

Kenyan troops are now poised to capture Kismayu, the Al-Shabaab port city stronghold, after overrunning Afmadhow located 150km away.

The minister said Kenya will soon enact a Bill seeking for improved protection and integration of refugees as opposed to their encampment that will see them played a meaningful role in the socio-economic development during their stay in the country.

Kenya is host to the largest refugee camp in the world, Dadaab, which hosts over 500,000 refugees against an initially planned number of 90,000.

The UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) Country Representative for Kenya , Elike Segbor described the Dadaab refugee complex is “the third largest city in Kenya ” in terms of population after the cities of Nairobi and Mombasa .

He said during conflict, refugees are usually faced with tough choices: “Do I stay and risk being killed, maimed and raped or do I flee to unknown land for unknown future? The choice is difficult to make but most go for the first option,” he divulged.

He said majority of refugees in Kenya are from Somalia , with a sizeable number from South Sudan, Rwanda , Burundi , Uganda and the Democratic Republic of Congo.

He thanked Kenya for “keeping the Kenya-Somalia border open to refugees despite being diplomatically closed,” a gesture which he said has contributed in saving millions of lives.

Deputy Country Director for UN World Food Program Pippa Bradford said refugees arrive into the country in a deplorable state having trekked for many kilometers with little or no food.

“However, through the help of the international community that has dug deep into its pockets to overcome the challenges of feeding the refugees, WFP has managed to distribute special strong and expanded food to the most vulnerable group of under five years old.”

The occasion whose theme was “One person forced to flee is too many” was marked with song and dance by cultural performances from nine different nationalities.

Kenya ’s Commissioner for Refugees Badu Katelo said the day was one for reflection and not for celebrating because Kenya has refugees.

“It is a day to celebrate the resilience and efforts refugees try to endure as they come across challenges. It is a day to dedicate time, efforts and resources to make refugees honorable and to recognize their never-say-die spirit,” the Commissioner said.

A survey released by two aid agencies on Tuesday shows majority of Somali refugees (86%) prefer to be resettled in urban centers and cities across Kenya if the current insecurity and harsh living conditions continue in their country.

The survey published by Refugee Consortium of Kenya (RCK) and Danish Refugee Council (DRC)  found that minority of refugees in the camp (14%) would like to be repatriated to the Horn of African nation regardless of the conditions in their country.

According to the report, the refugees claim to not feel the presence of police who allegedly have not only been harassing them but have failed to curb gender based violence (GBV) in the mammoth population in the camps.

The report says the continued refusal by the government to open the border and the lack of access to nutrition, health, water, transport and other essentials at Liboi was an extraordinary protection failure, contributing for several months to excess mortality in the first days of arrival in the camps.

Refugee Representative Alice Bahizi from Burundi said being a refugee does not make one different.

“Holding the title of a refugee does not make you a lesser person. If you do not get what you like, then like what you get,” she advised her colleagues.

Twenty-five year old Mario Mayar from South Sudan said he will go back to his newly independent country after five years upon completion of his education in Kenya .

The UNHCR and donors have called on the Kenyan government to embark on limiting public statements surrounding the immediate return of refugees, and encourage voluntary repatriation.

UNHCR also called on donors and partners to consider mainstream funding at Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps.

The UN refugee agency is investing millions of dollars with donor support in strengthening and improving police presence in the camps but the police are not trusted by the refugees’ population.


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