From the black death to hurricane Katrina, crises have plagued the world. Leaving hundreds of thousands dead or injured and leaving thousands more sick with fear or paled with concern, crises seem like problems of the past. Until today. Kenya has fallen ill with a crisis of their own: Somali refugees. With overpopulated camps and lack of adequate aid, Kenya feels it has no choice but to remove all refugees.
Kenya’s possible forced removal of Somali refugees violates international and national refugee law by repatriating displaced peoples into a country classified as a “failed” state; therefore, the United States should send funds to pay for more refugee camps in Kenya, but otherwise, remain uninvolved due to the crisis Americans already face. Since the Somali Civil War, which started in 1991, Somalia and Kenya have had a complex relationship layered with an intricate history. Twenty-five years ago, a group of rebels overthrew Somalia’s President in a coup (Hammond pp2).
This collapse left Somalis scared, concerned, and confused forcing them to seek safety and security in clans. Forming quickly, these clans terrorize the country, making Somalia a place of total anarchy. Clans killed rival members and innocent civilians for complete control, something that no one has been able to maintain (Hammond pp3-5). This terror left a large number of Somalis feeling that a risky flee was safer than a definite death in the brutal lands of Somalia. Kenya, in a relative state of serenity and security, offered assistance.
The most populated camp, Dadaab, quickly expanded with refugees. As Dadaab and similar camps built up a strong reputation as a safe haven, thousands of refugees began to enter in all at once (Hammond 6). The flood of refugees worsed in 2012, when Al-Shabaab, a violent militant group, took hold of the Somali government. Overcome with fear, massive amounts of refugees began to flood into Kenya, and the flow has yet to show signs of stopping. For those remaining in Somalia, every problem is life or death. Even if a civilian were to get injured or sick, the health care system in Somalia remains flawed.
For example, Somalis experience outbreaks of polio and measles, two diseases that are nearly eradicated, due to their poor health care system (“Rape”). Somali people barely have the right to a safe life. Because of this, Somalia has been declared a failed state. Kenya’s history with refugees is seemingly positive. With Dadaab opening over twenty years ago, Kenya houses thousands of refugees. This, however, appears to be changing. In recent years, Kenya has threatened to close the camp numerous times due to the bombings and alleged terrorist cells lurking within.
This has contributed to the universal thought equating all refugees to terrorists and has labeled Dadaab as a “nursery for Al-Shabaab”(“Xena News”) This may very well be the end of Dadaab-and the end of safety-for Somali refugees. Despite their previously positive relationship, relations between Kenya and Somalia remain strained. Events currently taking place in Somalia have become cause for worldwide concern. Despite the issues, the President of Somalia, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, has declared that Somalia is ready to receive returning Somali refugees.
This has further pushed Kenya to consider removing all Somali refugees. Although Somalia appears to have a formalized government, Al-Shabab, a militant group, plagues Somalia wreaking havoc and mayhem(“US Says to”). Attacks from this group happen frequently in the countryside, leaving many agencies, including the UNHCR, wondering if Somalia is truly ready to receive refugees. Ignoring all evidence, Kenya has decided to close their camps thereby removing thousands of refugees and placing them back in potential danger.
Dadaab, an overpopulated camp, will be emptied, leaving 350,000 Somali people to fend for themselves n the tough terrain of Somalia. The refugees, once thought of as terrorists, will once again face real terrorist groups back in Somalia. Even though the UN states that countries cannot, under international law, send people back to an unsafe state, Kenya has not retracted this threat (Simpson pp25). As a way of showing that this is no mere threat, Kenya has also shut down its Department of Refugee Affairs. Kenyan law does state that Kenya has the right to regulate who enters the country based on national security reasons.
Kenya has already begun enforcing this new law by enlisting its police force to remove refugees who enter illegally (“Rape”). Some Somali refugees want a guaranteed safe exit: twenty-four thousand have already voluntarily left Kenya (“Over Twenty-Four Thousand”) giving themselves a dignified and self-controlled repatriation back into their dangerous country. One refugee described her voluntary leave to Xena News Source by mentioning that while Somalia is “unsafe and barely habitable”, the refugee life is “unbearable, miserable, and worse than living in Somalia”(“Xena”).
The camps in Kenya have become so inhuman and unbearable that risking death in Somalia seems like a better option to many Somali refugees. For those that remain, Kenya’s camps have quickly become home to a humanitarian crisis. Dadaab does not meet the minimum requirements for food, water, shelter, or sanitation; because of this, the general camp’s health is quickly declining. As if malnutrition was not problem enough, many refugees face the serious threat of polio, a disease nearly eradicated(Polonsky). MSF, a health agency, predicts that hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees will become sick, mentally or physically, in the camps.
These illnesses are caused by the disgustingly low sanitation of the camp combined with the severe lack of food and water that has led to malnutrition. MSF also reports that these camps have an above average death rate, and this this should concern other countries, yet no country has interfered to help. Although Kenya is a better option than Somalia, that does not mean that refugees are safe in Kenya. Somali refugees constantly face racism and harassment from non-Somali Kenyan citizens. The Kenyan government, however, has gotten involved.
They have chosen to send in the police force to harass the refugees themselves. Police often require refugees to pay a bribe, usually about $100(USD) to enter the camp(Simpson pp26). The police brutality does not end with immoral bribes. Human Rights Watch reports police beating and raping women and children. These victims are often taken off of busses shipping them to the refugee camps and beaten or raped for refusing to pay the fines or not paying enough of the fine. Police tend to chose women and children because they cannot fight back.
This sick, inhuman treatment of refugees violates Kenya’s own constitution, yet one of Kenya’s own institutions promotes this vile behavior. As if this in itself was not cause for worldwide concern, Kenya has begun to follow through on its repatriation of Somali refugees. The Somali president has assured that the return of these refugees will be orderly, humane, and dignified(“Somali President”), however, Somali has not had a true government since the start of their Civil War. Somali refugees now live in a constant state of fear, wondering when they will have to return back to their dangerous, deadly homeland.
The United Nations have begun to search for a solution. While members argue over whether Kenya simply wants more aid or not, Kenya’s government has informed the refugees that Somalia is no longer a broken state, and, thus, more refugees have begun to leave voluntarily. As these refugees pour back home, American and European countries do nothing but argue over the validity of Kenya’s statement regarding the safety of Somalia and Kenya’s camps.
The United States has remained strangely silent on the matter; because of this, many member countries of the United Nations, ike Italy and France, who have taken in refugees, are upset with the United States’ unwelcome silence. Kenya has asked the United Nations for more funding and aid. The United States and other members of the United Nations should give Kenya as much aid as possible without causing an economic burden on their own country. For example, the United States can easily give four million dollars in aid by reducing the amount of money spent on arms and weaponry. Ensuring safe return would require occupation, and most occupations lead to a conflict: therefore, it is not an option.
For example, the United States previously occupied Somalia for a short period of time in hopes of calming their civil war, and it failed terribly. (“What a Drowned”). Does the United States truly need yet another crisis on its hands? Not forgetting the Syrian crisis the United States already faces, it is in the country’s best interest to find a safe middle ground. This middle ground is not the most humanitarian option nor is it the most economical, but it does hold promise that Kenya may terminate their new refugee laws while preventing international conflict.
If the Department of State works well with the United Nations’ Refugee Agency, possible funding could be used to reinitiate the Kenyan Department of Refugee Affairs. Together, these three agencies should raise awareness of the violation of international law, re-open the borders, punish the offending police officers, and use funds to improve old camps and possibly open a new one. With these three agencies working together, the humanitarian crisis can be averted and thousands of lives can be saved.