The largest refugee camp in the world, Dadaab in Kenya, 25 years old
September 20, 2016 2:53 PM   Subscribe

While the International Court of Justice in The Hague takes up a dispute between Kenya and Somalia over maritime oil and gas reserves this week, Human Rights Watch alleges that Kenya's plan to close the Dadaab refugee camp complex, amidst protest from Somalia, violates the UN's 1951 Refugee Convention, which requires that repatriation of refugees must be voluntary. Earlier this year Kenya's Interior Ministry announced that the camp, covering 50 km² (20 mi²) and home to nearly 300,000 people, would be closed by November. Ground was broken to construct the earliest portions of Dadaab in October 1991 by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees as a temporary measure to aid Somalis fleeing from their country's civil war, but as the years passed the site became home to refugees from other conflicts and to refugees from drought and famine, at its height holding more than half a million people.

Earlier this year Radio New Zealand broadcast a half-hour interview with an author discussing the history and conditions in the camp. Several members of "Team Refugee" who competed in the Rio 2016 Olympics reside in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in Kenya.
posted by XMLicious (13 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
I was motivated to put this post together because I read that the perpetrator of the mall knife attack in St. Cloud, Minnesota, in the US on Saturday was born in Kenya to Somali parents, and wondered whether he might have been born in Dadaab. However previous FPPs note that Kenya has always had a minority of Somali speaking people within its borders, so absent further information his family may simply have been Kenyan citizens.
posted by XMLicious at 2:54 PM on September 20, 2016 [2 favorites]

some people have been living there for more than 20 years.

20 fucking years. Jesus.

The video on the bbc link with the dude who was born a refugee, whose wife was born in Dadaab and now has a two year old daughter born in Dadaab is infuriating on so many levels.

Beyond the suffering (which is of course awful), so much human potential has been wasted that could have been working towards establishing a better, permanent, life for these people.
posted by sparklemotion at 3:36 PM on September 20, 2016 [5 favorites]

They have refugees

China has ghost cities.

No doubt there is some part of the equation I'm missing.
posted by IndigoJones at 3:57 PM on September 20, 2016 [4 favorites]

Wikimedia Commons has a collection of about 75 images of various scenes in the camp.
posted by XMLicious at 4:35 PM on September 20, 2016

It's a win/win/win situation. So as bad as it looks to us from the "1st" world, no one is shooting and from google maps each family has a small personal compound. Win... for some approximation of 'win' for the refugee. Host country, well hypothesizing here but a smart official requires a small bit of graft to allow aid shipments and only steals a small portion. Win. International Philanthropic Organization has a well defined cost and not too many horror stories. Win. (and just to wallow in the cynicism, think of the photo ops, no? well just look at the wikimedia photos)
posted by sammyo at 6:41 PM on September 20, 2016 [1 favorite]

I can't wrap my head around a half million people living like this. I just can't.

I know I can't truly comprehend how fortunate I am and how little I've done to deserve it.
posted by BlueHorse at 6:44 PM on September 20, 2016 [3 favorites]

Wow, it has been 23 years since Mark Bowden's Philadelphia Inquirer articles that became a book that became a movie, Black Hawk Down. Somalia hasn't gotten much better in all that time.

As for the oil & gas, there probably isn't any.
posted by Bee'sWing at 6:56 PM on September 20, 2016

I worked with a family of Burundian refugees when I was in college who were part of what were known as the 1973 Burundians. What that meant was that they - or, rather, Maman and Papan - had fled Burundi in 1973 after Hutus in Burundi were killed, en masse, by the majority-Tutsi army in 1972. They had lived, for varying amounts of time, in Rwanda, Tanzania, and Kenya before being "permanently resettled" in St. Louis in 2008. Thirty-five years of impermanence. All of their kids were born in refugee camps. Maman could read a little, Papan could not. Only three of the kids were young enough to be automatically enrolled in public schools (in the St. Louis city public schools). I have no idea how you grow up in a refugee camp and then arrive and are told to put down roots and get a job and pay back the US Government for your plane tickets and learn English, you functionally illiterate man who speaks Kirundi, Kinyarwanda, Kiswahili, French, and a little Buganda, otherwise people will think you're stupid and you won't be able to care for your family.

My hometown is a refugee resettlement city. Kids who grew up in Dadaab were suddenly in New Hampshire in February. How do you explain snow suits and stairs and sit in this chair and don't fight with the girl from a different clan to a group of children who are the third generation growing up in a refugee camp in the Kenyan desert?

I spent a few days in Lodwar, the town in Turkana closest to Dadaab, when I was in Kenya in 2009. I made friends with a woman who worked there in one of the clinics. Dadaab dwarfs Lodwar. The folks who live in Turkana, the Turkana, are pastoralists who make a living with herds of goats, camels if you're rich, because the desert can't support cattle grazing. It's truly amazing more violence hasn't come out of Dadaab and other refugee camps, because we're keeping generations of people in a very marginal environment with very few resources and even fewer opportunities to be elsewhere. It's a waste of human capital and minds for generations of kids who just had the misfortune of being born in the wrong part of the horn of Africa with the wrong kind of political capital.
posted by ChuraChura at 7:24 PM on September 20, 2016 [12 favorites]

My hometown of Amarillo TX was a resettlement community for a lot of East Asian refugees. When I was substitute teaching at a school there one sixth grade boy asked if he could eat lunch in my temporary classroom. He explained that he usually did with the regular teacher because he was nervous in crowds. Later I learned that he was nervous in crowds because his family had been murdered by a mob (they were the wrong ethnic group) leaving him as the sole survivor. He had an aunt or uncle who had escaped the country earlier and managed to get with them, and then to America.

I thought, at the time, that he was unfortunate. Now, seeing this, I realize that he was fortunate indeed. And that's the most depressing realization I've ever had.
posted by sotonohito at 6:37 AM on September 21, 2016 [3 favorites]

I remember listening to a podcast recently about Dadaab. Must have been this Fresh Air episode.
posted by LoveHam at 6:54 AM on September 21, 2016 [1 favorite]

That's the same author as was interviewed by RNZ, Ben Rawlence for his book City of Thorns: 9 Lives in the World's Largest Refugee Camp. Thanks for finding the link, I've got it queued up, he was quite an interesting and informative interviewee.
posted by XMLicious at 9:32 AM on September 21, 2016

Independent Online (South Africa):
A new life with fewer lifelines

FOR years, Katra Abii dreamt of moving her family back to Somalia. All eight of her children were born in neighbouring Kenya, in the world’s largest refugee camp, but she hoped one day they would be able to marry and start families of their own in their home country.


She agreed to relocate to Somalia in August only because she had been led to believe that the Kenyan government would evict everyone by force.

She knew if the army began sending refugees back to Somalia, as it did after terrorist attacks in 2014, there would be no time to take advantage of the limited financial assistance UNHCR was offering.

So Abii decided to take her children back to Kismayo. Once there, she found that even the bare-bones support they had been promised – schools, health care, a meagre cash allowance for food – was insufficient or didn’t exist at all.


“I was poor in Dadaab, but I am destitute here,” said Abii. “The Kenyans told us it’s time to return to your home country. They told us we don’t have a choice.”
Thomson Reuters Foundation:
First U.N. special envoy for Somali refugees amid 'asylum fatigue'

The United Nations has appointed its first special envoy for Somali refugees to ensure they receive protection, following accusations by a rights group that Kenya has been forcing them out of the world's largest refugee camp in a bid to close it.


Former Kenyan ambassador to Somalia, Mohamed Abdi Affey, was appointed in response to "recent security and political gains in parts of Somalia, along with growing pressures on host countries and related asylum fatigue," it said.
Radio France International:
One quarter of Kenya's Somali refugees want to go home

The main story in the Kenyan Daily Nation reports that nearly 70,000 Somalis in the Dadaab refugee complex in Kenya have indicated a willingness to return home soon, according to United Nations officials.

That amounts to about one-quarter of the 284,000 individuals who were living in the Dadaab camps in the course of a “verification exercise” that the UN refugee agency conducted in July and August.
Somalia Newsroom: Methodology or Misinformation: What’s Driving Dadaab Refugee Camp Numbers Down?
posted by XMLicious at 3:07 AM on October 6, 2016

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