The UN World Food Programme (WFP) announced that it will cut food rations by 30 percent for the hundreds of thousands of Somalis in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in northern Kenya. WFP said the decision is the result of funding shortfalls. However, many of the Somali refugees believe the reductions are the result of a Kenyan government move to close the Dadaab and push the Somali refugees toward “voluntary” repatriation to Somalia.
Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, has never been an easy place to live. Stretching for miles and across arid land in Kenya’s underdeveloped northeast region, Dadaab is home to several hundred thousand refugees, primarily from Somalia, who are seeking refuge from war and hunger in their home country. Dadaab’s residents subside on monthly food rations, struggle to find work among limited opportunities, and face restrictive Kenyan policies that prevent the establishment of anything resembling permanent infrastructure.
Kenya hosts nearly half a million registered Somali refugees, the vast majority of whom live in the Dadaab camps in the country’s North Eastern province. For over two decades, armed conflict and food shortages have caused major waves of Somalis to flee south, across the Kenyan border for refuge – most recently during the 2011-2012 famine – when war and drought combined to kill over 260,000 people. Hundreds of thousands of Somalis have also taken refuge in Ethiopia.
For the sake of Somali refugees like Farah, let’s also hope that refugee rights are on the agenda. For years, Somali refugees in Kenya have faced abuse and extortion at the hands of Kenya’s security services. However, as Kenyan government officials have sought to link the broad refugee population with the threat of terrorism, police have used this as leverage to detain, abuse, and extort money from refugees at unprecedented levels.
It’s a sunny morning in the city of Nairobi. I am greeted on a busy street by my friend, Fatima. Fatima tells me about the difficulty she has had since I was last in Nairobi a year ago. She is a refugee from Somalia. She and her mother fled Somalia in 2009 after an attack by the Al Shabab terrorist organization. Her father was killed and her brothers were ‘lost’. She and her mother arrived in the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya, but her mother did not live long after their arrival. On her own at the age of 14, Fatima, like many young unaccompanied women, chose to come to Nairobi.