Options are limited for the thousands who call Dadaab home. Only a few months ago, one of the patients in the mental health programme run by Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) committed suicide after his request to be resettled in a third country was rejected. This tragic story is symptomatic of a place where hundreds of thousands of people are trapped, and where they live with little hope for a better tomorrow.
Refugees are today stuck in these camps in the semi-arid land bordering Somalia. They need travel authorisations to go anywhere else in the country, including to receive medical care. People in Dadaab remain nearly 100 percent dependent on humanitarian aid. A lucky few receive financial support from relatives living elsewhere, but for the majority, self-reliance is a pipe dream.
Living on emergency humanitarian aid generally means surviving on, if you are lucky, just 20 litres of water per day. It means living in a shelter made of plastic sheeting. It also means receiving a monthly food ration which may be cut without warning because of problems with funding or supply – both of which are subject to the “generosity” of the international community and to other humanitarian crises around the world, which absorb a portion of the aid budget and stocks available globally.
For a refugee, what are the possible ways out? In theory they have three choices: to return voluntarily to their country of origin; to be relocated to a third country; or to be allowed to settle in the country where they first found asylum. In reality, very few refugees in Dadaab apply for voluntary repatriation, because of on-going war in Somalia. Many of the camps’ residents were born in Dadaab and have children who have little, if any, attachment to Somalia. Out of all those who apply for relocation to a third country, just a few dozen each month receive permission to do so.
As for settling permanently in Kenya, for the refugees, the only option on the table is to remain inside the camps. Dadaab, intended to be a temporary solution, has become all too permanent.
This is an extract of an opinion piece which was originally published in the Daily Nation, Kenya. (19 June 2015)