Kenya

CS Omamo criticises donors 'throwing money' at refugee problem

CS Omamo criticises donors 'throwing money' at refugee problem

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo addresses foreign envoys at the Serena Hotel in Nairobi on September 17, 2021, on Kenya's foreign policy position as it prepares to take over the presidency of the United Nations Security Council in October.

Photo credit: Diana Ngila | Nation Media Group

Kenya is criticising the continual refusal by rich countries to admit refugees even as they make pledges towards supporting their humanitarian needs, as an insufficient solution to the problem.

Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Raychelle Omamo on Friday told a group of diplomats that everyone must play a role in hosting refugees, and ensuring they are resettled as soon as possible.

She spoke at a media and diplomatic briefing in Nairobi, on Kenya’s crucial areas of focus as it prepares to attend the UN General Assembly (UNGA), and later in October host the presidency of the UN Security Council.

The UNGA meeting, the 76th session has already begun in New York but leaders will begin addressing the sessions, mostly virtually, on ‘building resilience through hope…to recover from Covid-19, rebuild sustainability, responding to the needs of the planet, respect the rights of the people and revitalising the United Nations’.

Dadaab refugee camp

This file photo taken on April 28, 2015 shows Somali refugees at a market at the IFO main camp of the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

Photo credit: Tony Karumba | AFP

Humiliation

CS Omamo used the occasion to lampoon how the refugee problem has persisted despite options to resettle the asylum seekers.

“Solidarity means that people share burdens and sharing burdens doesn’t mean just throwing money at them. It means actually taking refugees in,” she told the meeting at the Serena Hotel.

“There should be no refugees in the world. There are too many peaceful countries in our world.”

She did not name any countries, but her criticism comes as Nairobi fights to close its two refugee camps that have been in existence since the 1990s.

It also comes as countries in the West decline to host refugees fleeing from Afghanistan, forcing donors to beg those in Africa for temporary hosting.

CS Omamo said Nairobi will continue to play its role in temporary hosting and providing emergency care for those who arrive from troubled regions, but noted that keeping refugees for an eternity only humiliates them.

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Big problem

Kenya has had the refugee problem for the last 30 years, although there had been refugees technically even before independence.

The country currently hosts over 500,000 refugees but Kakuma and Dadaab camps harbour more than 400,000 of them.

In 2013, Kenya and Somalia, with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), agreed to enable voluntary repatriation. So far, only 85,067 refugees have voluntarily returned, according to UNHCR.

And while others may have been resettled in other countries, the idea of closing the camps was fought mainly by donors and relief agencies, which argued the refugees were being thrown back into the fire they fled from.

In April, Kenya said it was working with the UN to find solutions for the remaining refugees and eventually close the two camps it has cited as a security problem.

“This idea that refugees can live in camps in perpetuity should be unconscionable when there are countries that can take them in. It is not sufficient to expect that those who have been hosting are expected to facilitate safe return of refugees,” CS Omamo said.

“Kenya’s concern is that maintaining people in camps for an extended period is a violation of human rights, because you keep people in limbo for a very long time, so we need to find solutions.”

Kakuma refugee camp

Kakuma refugee camp in Turkana County, Kenya, as pictured on December 18, 2020.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

UN Global Compact

Some of those solutions had been agreed as early as December 2018, through the UN Global Compact on Refugees.

This is supposed to be a political statement by the international community to improve on “cooperation and solidarity” between refugees and hosts.

The idea, the document says, is to ease pressure on host communities by enhancing self-reliance among refugees, providing solutions away from encampment and supportomg peace conditions that will help refugees return to their countries.

Nairobi says the world must implement the document because it provides new alternatives to indefinite encampment.

“We have to look at all the solutions offered under the Global Compact, which is a document that everyone has read but does not implement effectively,” the CS said.

“We want to leverage international support so that we can have solutions to this challenge. It can’t be that people who are always vulnerable end up in camps for almost 30 years.”