NAIROBI, Kenya, Sept 28 – First came the war, a war that never ended. Then came the drought, a drought that never relented. On the heels of the drought came the famine. And people did the only thing they could; they abandoned their homes in search of water, food, and work.
They arrived by the thousands at the border post. But in recent years thousands of refugees had already been admitted, and the neighbouring country would accept no more.
Such tragic scenes are becoming all too common. Uprooted people discover that it is more difficult to find a place they can call their own.
Indeed, the words of John Howard Payne, an actor-cum-author ring true that ‘Be it ever so humble, there’s no place like home.’
Ali Ahmed, a refugee at the Dadaab camp near the Kenya-Somalia border says that life at the temporary settlement is not a bed of roses.
“Life here at the camp is not easy. It is very difficult. The weather conditions are harsh and we do not have adequate shelter to protect us sufficiently.”
At 17 years, he has had to go back to a lower class due to the time wasted trying to settle in at the camp.
“I was born in Somalia and was proceeding very well with my education. At the moment, I am in class one in Primary school, but I will still continue with my education because there is nothing that I can do about it,” he states.
The fortunate ones who do make it to a refugee camp may find safety of sorts, but it rarely seems like home. And the conditions in the camp are always far from ideal.
“You might die of a bullet at home, but here in the refugee camp your children will die of hunger,” complains one refugee at the Dadaab camp.
As this desperate father discovered, many camps suffer persistent food and water shortages as well as a lack of hygiene and adequate shelter.
The reasons are simple. Many countries that find themselves inundated with thousands of refugees may already be struggling just to feed their own citizens.
They cannot provide much help to the multitudes who suddenly appear on their doorstep. And the wealthier nations, faced with their own problems, may be reluctant to help support the many refugees in other countries.
However, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights chairperson Florence Jaoko says that countries hosting refugees need to integrate them into the society.
“In some countries refugees actually live freely in the communities. It is rare to find situations where people live in camps,” says the KNCHR boss.
“Camps are supposed to be transitory. Unfortunately for us and for some refugees especially those from Somalia it has become a permanent thing,” she further states.
She says that a monitoring mechanism needs to be put in place to ensure that their needs are well taken care of. She says that if this is done, then when conditions stabilise in their countries of origin, they will be repatriated.
“Those who are able are actually living with us in Nairobi and in whichever city they want to so it is a question of monitoring so that the government knows where the refugees are,” Mrs Jaoko states.
And now, with the El Nino rainfall set to occur beginning early next month, the conditions at the camps are set to deteriorate further.
That is why the Intergovernmental Authority on Development Executive Secretary Engineer Mahboub Maalim stresses the need to for preparations to be made so as to curtail the impact of the impending rains.
“We have the highest number of refugees in the world and in this region. In Northern Kenya, the refugee population is about 350, 000,” Eng Mahboub says adding that Kenya is currently experiencing the largest influx of refugees in the East African region.
“We have the highest number of IDPs, the highest number of returnees and therefore the mechanism of the setup of livelihood in this region is becoming more serious by the day.”
His sentiments are echoed by the Kenya Red Cross Society Secretary General Abbas Gullet who says that measures are currently being put in place to reduce the blow that the downpour might have on refugees.
“These are predictions. We are being told what will happen. We can only prepare to respond in the initial phase (the emergency phase and hopefully there will be a recovery phase because people are probably going to lose their lives and animals destroyed by the floods,” Mr Gullet states.
Besides refugees and internally displaced persons, there is a growing tide of economic refugees. There are several reasons for this; the gap between the rich countries of the world and the poor ones keeps growing, and television programs daily flaunt the affluent life-styles of certain countries in front of some of the poorest citizens of the globe.
Worldwide travel has also become easier, and borders are getting more porous. Civil wars as well as ethnic and religious discrimination also provide strong motivation for people to move to more prosperous lands.
But while some migrants especially those who already have relatives in industrialised countries make the move successfully, others end up ruining their lives. Those who fall into the hands of criminal traffickers face particular danger.
Practically every refugee, displaced person, or irregular migrant has his own nightmare to relate. Whatever the reason for which these people have been uprooted from their homes – be it war, persecution, or poverty their suffering provokes the questions, “will this problem ever be solved? Or will the flood of refugees just keep on growing?”