Kenya’s Bold and Disruptive Response to the Perennial Refugee Dilemma: A Shocking Revelation!

On Sunday May 21, 2023, Mary Wambui reported that Kenya’s two biggest refugee camps were set to undergo a dramatic transformation, becoming permanent urban centres within five years. This move aims to alleviate the security burden that Nairobi has been carrying while fulfilling its humanitarian obligations. Interestingly, refugees currently hosted in Dadaab and Kakuma will neither be forced out nor granted citizenship; instead, they will be given special IDs to conduct income-generating activities in Kenya as their camps transition into permanent centres. These new centres will no longer be tented cities but fully functional, planned self-sustaining communities.

As the fifth largest refugee hosting country in Africa and the 13th largest asylum country globally, Kenya has been hosting approximately 700,000 people fleeing persecution, violence or drought. However, most of these refugees reside in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, while the capital, Nairobi, hosts only 91,000 refugees. Over the past decade, these camps have been the subject of much controversy due to security issues and allegations of terror plots being hatched against Kenya.

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Despite Nairobi wanting to shut down the camps in the past, this time, Kenya desires to make Dadaab and Kakuma permanent and is asking financiers to help develop social amenities to help manage these centres. The new plan, dubbed Nashiriki, aims to support refugees and asylum seekers to transition from dependence on humanitarian aid to self-reliance. The plan also seeks to empower refugees to become resilient against recurring shocks. Turkey County has already elevated Kakuma to a municipality, and soon, Garissa Governor Nathif Jama Adam will sign a charter elevating Dadaab into a municipality. UN agencies, donor partners and NGOs working in the two camps have pledged support for the plan, which is a whole of government-whole of society approach aimed at ensuring precision and accuracy.

The plan comes at a time when the Kenyan government is seeking to reopen its borders with Ethiopia and Somalia, which have been closed due to insecurity. The government has asserted that the 2013 Westgate attack, the 2015 Garissa University attack, and the 2019 Dusit complex attack were planned and executed from Dadaab. The settlement plan, however, needs to be carried out carefully so that it does not become a pull factor for asylum seekers and refugees. Despite the challenges, the UK funds a program called “Deris Wanaag,” aimed at finding a lasting solution to insecurity and instability in the Horn of Africa region posed by al-Shabaab.

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