Kenyan delegation, UNHCR Standing Committee meeting, 2009
- Agreed with the Asst High Commissioner that dependence by governments on UNHCR makes governments passive partners. UNHCR should feel emboldened to challenge governments where they fail
- Dadaab is the litmus test for camps – now hosting 300,000 displaced persons – capacity is 90,000
- Committed to The Netherlands request to make land available to ease overcrowding
- Inability of UNHCR to protect is an indictment on UNHCR – the ‘worst’ places for displaced persons have the largest populations – naming and shaming discourages governments from doing more.
- Called on UNHCR to investigate root causes of risks – instigated by host communities or mixed migration flows where there is a lack, or complete absence of screening facilities – should be mandatory
- Levelling risk at host countries is now a cause for complaint – “no longer passive” – as recent UNHCR / Kenyan Govt standoff at Kakuma last month demonstrated, situation could have been avoided
- More displaced people from Mogadishu travelling 170 km to camps. In Kenya, there has been an increase in outflows; however, in Dadaab, the main concern remains tremendous overcrowding and congestion.
UNHCR Annual Consultation with NGOs – Africa Bureau
Africa represents 50 per cent of UNHCR’s global activities.
Comment from the floor: refugees’ voices are being silenced in Kakuma. Refugees started a newspaper, UNHCR became concerned. A human rights lawyer has said the newspaper could go on under the right to freedom of association, however, UNHCR interfered and refused to provide a letter of support to the refugees as the Kenyan Govt had demanded. This is one way of ensuring refugees’ voices are heard, and bring awareness to the conditions in the camp.
Question from the floor (Kenyan NGO): I would like to raise the issue of the closure of the Kenyan Government closing its border with Somalia. Mogadishu is on fire; what is the intention of the Kenyan office; I understand the difficulties with the government but Mogadishu is not safe for anyone.
Response: Menghesha Kebede (UNHCR – Officer in Charge of Africa Bureau)
One issue, which is a collective challenge, is ensuring refugee voices are heard. I have heard about the situations in Namibia and Kakuma. While I fully support the NGO stance, there is one principle that should be followed regarding information disseminated by refugees – it must have refugees at the heart. It should reflect conditions but be for the use of the camp committee which can use this important feedback to improve its plans. I understand these communications have news value, but it should firstly form the basis for programme planning. I don’t agree that it can’t be used for raising awareness, but it should inform programmes. Information disseminated outside should follow the principle of agreeing to avoid challenges with governments – local laws need to be respected. If external people are going into camps, that information should report internally. We will press on, but we must respect the civilian nature of refugee camps given political concerns. I support the full dissemination of information by refugees for refugees.
The situation in Somalia is very concerning. Despite Kenya’s decision to close the border, it remains porous, with 57,000 new arrivals at Dadaab. If the border was open at designated points, screening could be done; if armed elements are coming in, we could report them from the office and approach the Kenyan Government – and probably try and resolve the issue.
In Dadaab, there are three major issues – the Kenyan Government, the local community, and land. More than 280,000 are crammed into a camp that was built for 90,000 people. It is not conducive to protecting public health, sanitation etc. UNHCR has taken the protection discussion to the highest levels – the High Commissioner has met with the President; this was followed with discussions with the Prime Minister and two missions. One positive is that 2,000 hectares has been set aside for a new camp. We remain hopeful that we can improve the situation but we need NGO support. We are encouraging voluntary relocation from Dadaab to Kakuma, but we are feeling the pinch from the local community, which perceives that too much attention is paid to refugees at the expense of the host community – and after 19 years, the impact of environmental degradation, destruction of trees, and effects on water supplies are devastating. It’s appropriate, we appreciate that as far as resources are concerned, the situation is unfair and more needs to be done, so in July we are starting an integrated project over two years for both refugees and the host community. ExComm and donors will tell us to stay within our mandate and budget, to focus on life saving needs, but these needs are not being met.