A brief history and current issues
In this Year of Mercy, the Basilica of St. Mary has partnered with Lutheran Social Services (LSS) to co-sponsor three refugee families. Our first family arrived in Minnesota in February 2016. Of Somalian descent, the family had previously lived in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, both of which are located in Kenya. These camps were originally formed in 1991 to help Somalians fleeing the brutal civil war which had erupted in their country.
Today, Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world with over 330,000 inhabitants, most of whom are of Somalian descent (Rivett-Carnac, 2016). Many of the people who came to Dadaab never left, living there as many as 25 years. As life continues to go on, people have been born, married, had children and died within the camp. Some families are now welcoming the third generation of their family to live in Dadaab (Hujale, 2016).
In fact, for the first family the Basilica is co-sponsoring, at least three of the four children were born inside the Dadaab camp and, until arriving in the United States, they had never known life outside of refugee camps. On a recent outing with parishioners to the Como zoo, the parents of our refugee family were pointing out various animals to their children, showing them the types of wildlife that the parents remembered seeing in Somalia. These animals were not present in the refugee camps and so the children were seeing these animals for the first time here in Minnesota.
However, life within the camps may quickly change as the Kenyan government has recently announced they will be closing the Dadaab refugee camp. Kenya’s primary reason for closing the camp stems from security concerns related to multiple attacks that have been conducted by the Al-Shabab militant group within Kenya, including the 2013 Westgate mall siege in Nairobi and the 2015 attack at Garissa University that killed 147 students.
According to the Kenyan government, Al-Shabab is actively recruiting and harboring terrorists within the camps (Mutiga, 2016). The Guardian’s Murithi Mutiga reports that “refugees in the camp were especially shocked because the announcement followed recent improvements in security in Dadaab.”
In speaking with people living in the camps, Mutiga interviewed “Fadumo Ali Noor, who fled from Baidow in south-western Somalia in the early 1990s [and] said: “I never slept last night after listening to the news on the radio. We appreciate all the work Kenya has done hosting us, but we urge them to reconsider because this is the only home we know.” Another gentleman that Mutiga interviewed said “This has been the home of three generations of my family for 25 years. All my children were born here and my daughters got married and bore my grandchildren here. I can’t see how I can build a new life in Somalia where the fighting is still going on.”
As a first step in the closure process, the Kenyan government has disbanded the Department of Refugee Affairs, which has traditionally handled the paper work for refugee registration (Kennedy, 2016). According to NPR, the Kenyan government “provided no details about a timeline or where the hundreds of thousands of refugees would go should the camps be closed.”
The Kenyan government has set aside $10MM dollars and established a committee to develop a plan and timeline for the camp’s closure. The first committee report was due to be issued at the end of May 2016 (Mutiga, 2016) however, as of the writing of this post, no additional information has been publicly released.
- Hujale, Moulid. “Life in Dadaab: three gernations of refugees isolated from Kenyan society.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 2016. Web. 27 January 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/jan/27/life-dadaab-three-generations-of-refugees-isolated-from-kenyan-society>
- Kennedy, Merrit. “Kenya Says It Will Shut Down The World’s Largest Refugee Camp.” NPR. NPR, 2016. Web. 7 May 2016. <http://www.npr.org/sections/thetwo-way/2016/05/07/477141180/kenya-says-it-will-shut-down-the-worlds-largest-refugee-camp>
- Mutiga, Murithi. “Refugees urge Kenyan leaders to rethink closure of Dadaab camp.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media Limited, 2016. Web. 13 May 2016. <http://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2016/may/13/refugees-urge-kenyan-leaders-to-rethink-closure-of-dadaab-camp>
- Rivett-Carnac, Mark. “Kenya Is Planning to Close the ‘World’s Largest Refugee Camp.’” Time. Time Inc., 2016. Web. 12 May 2016. <http://time.com/4327239/kenya-close-refugee-camp-dadaab>