In September 2016, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) adopted the New York Declaration of Refugees and Migrants which calls on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to apply the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) in situations of large-scale refugee movements. It aims to meet four objectives: ease pressure on host countries, enhance refugee self-reliance, expand access to resettlement, and foster conditions that enable voluntary repatriation.
Two years later, the Global Compact on Refugees (GCR), which encompasses the CRRF, included the above objectives. However, for many refugees, the GCR translates into “you warehouse refugees, we fund” as the Compact evolved out of the politics of the European Refugee Crisis of 2015 to curb migration flows to Global North countries. While these agreements discuss repatriations and resettlement, according to experts, the sustained, local integration of refugees in faraway host countries was a central motivation behind the North’s solidarity.
In 2018, the Kenyan government adopted the language of the Global Compact on Refugees and CRRF in its refugee policies. It implemented the Kalobeyei Integrated Social Economic Development Plan (KISEDP), a settlement plan that promotes the self-reliance of refugees and host communities through enhancing livelihood opportunities.
Aimed at creating a self-reliant society, the Kalobeyei Settlement has caught donors’ interest since its inception and is considered a litmus test to the Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF) piloted in Kenya and 14 other refugee-hosting countries.
In a World Refugee Day speech made on June 20, 2022, the Turkana County Governor, Jeremiah Lomorukai Napotikan said: “KISEDP enhances the call for protection and safety of all humankind through promoting inclusive socio-economic development.”
The governor also admired UNHCR and partners for “the progress and achievement” they have made so far on the KISDEP and urged them to shift from “humanitarian assistance to development interventions.”
KISEDP is a multi-year program (2016-2030) divided into four implementation phases and organized into eight complementary programmatic components. Aligned with the Turkana County Integrated Development 2018-2022 Plan (CIDP), these components include measures to strengthen health care, education, water supplies etc.
With Phase I of KISEDP (2018-2022) completed, Phase II, which aims to create self-reliant refugee and host communities, is now underway.
While KISEDP is only in the early stages of implementation, the differences between Kalobeyei and Kakuma seem clear. The layout of the Kalobeyei settlement signals a long-term and integrated approach to planning. There are areas for shared commercial and leisure use, as well as accommodation, gardens, access roads and infrastructures such as energy and water supplies, while the schools are better equipped than those in the four Kakuma camps.
The German Development Institute also highlighted the Kenyan Government’s commitment to involving the refugee population in all CRRF planning processes. “For the Kenyan Government, failure to live up to its commitments here would lead to a loss of face on the foreign policy front, even though such commitments run counter to its security focus,” the report states.
KISEDP is a multi-sectorial and multi-agency plan coordinated by the Turkana government and the UNHCR with the support of numerous international donors such as UN-Habitat and the Lutheran World Federation.
“This is an integrating program that we truly appreciate as the county government,” says the Turkana governor. “The UNHCR and its partners have done their best and we will continue to implement some of the highlighted socio-economic programs for integration of refugees and host communities in Turkana West Sub County.”
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Refugees from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) and Somalia have been resettled in a third country, Germany, through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) resettlement programme.
Germany has been admitting refugees from the Kakuma refugee camp since the country’s President Frank-Walter Steinmeier visited Kakuma in 2020. The country has been generous to refugees from South Sudan, DRC and Somalia who have lived in the Kakuma camp for over a decade. In fact, Germany welcomed a million refugees during the 2015-2016 Europe refugee crisis, which sparked discussions around the world about whether the international refugee system needed to be fundamentally updated, according to the Refugee Studies Centre in Oxford.
During this critical time, under the leadership of Chancellor Angela Merkel, Germany welcomed a million refugees fleeing Syria under the principle of ‘Wir Schaffen Das’, which translates to ‘we can do this’ in German. “We will cope because we are a strong country”, Merkel said. “We can cope with the arrival of large numbers of refugees.”
Germany is one of the European countries that pledged to launch various civil society-driven programmes to support displaced people and refugees under UNHCR’s protection mandate, following the resolution on the Office of UNHCR, which affirms the Global Compact on Refugees adopted by the UN General Assembly on 17 December 2018.
Since May 2019, the German Federal Government has been testing a Community Sponsorship programme for refugees, with the goal of not only offering additional resettlement opportunities for vulnerable refugees but also providing them with financial and social support upon their arrival in Germany.
Some of the refugees from Kakuma refugee camp and the new Kalobeyei settlement were resettled in Germany through the community programme called NesT (‘Neustart in Team’, or ‘a team for starting over’). NesT was founded by a member of the local community in Germany and is supported by volunteer mentor groups who are ready to welcome refugees in particular need of protection.
Four of KANERE’s 12 team members have received an opportunity to resettle in Germany. We asked three of KANERE’s former staff refugees in Kakuma who also benefited from the NesT resettlement scheme and who worked as journalists while they were here in the camp.
We asked what surprised them most about their first experience and to tell us about the beer and bread in Germany.
Wol Makwatch, a South Sudanese refugee who had been in Kakuma since the age of three, had a chance to resettle in Germany through the NesT and UNHCR referral system.
Makwath, one of KANERE’s reporters who was arrested while covering the teachers’ strike in Kakuma, has been happy since his arrival in Germany. “Here there is a whole lot of freedom, you will walk freely across [borders of] the European nations without issues.”
However, one challenge is “I am not able to continue my journalism work because of language barriers as the law requires me to have a B1 in the German language”.
Lisala Alphonse, a Congolese refugee and former member of KANERE, had been in the Kakuma refugee camp for a decade. She had an opportunity to resettle in Germany in 2022 through the same humanitarian programme. Liza shared that she “saw snow for the first time”.
What surprised her most upon her arrival was how German’s respect “their language, cultures, rules [and] even time management; here everything is different from Africa”.
Due to her skin colour, Liza has faced difficulties when dealing with refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iran and Turkey.
With regard to education, Germany has supported the refugee community in Kenya for the past three decades through the Albert Einstein German Academic Refugee Initiative (DAFI) scholarship programme, which has benefited over 21,500 refugee students from all over the world.
Since 2019, UNHCR Kenya has supported refugees resettling to Germany and has resettled various refugees residing in Kenya. Since President Steinmeier’s first visit to Kakuma camp, over 1,000 refugees from Somalia, DRC and South Sudan were assisted to resettle in Germany, as per the August 2022 UNHCR Kenya monthly statistics.
Currently, Germany is the second biggest donor globally to UNHCR. Since the Global Compact on Refugees, Germany has been the top destination country for refugees living in Kenya.
In November 2022, thanks to the German Foreign Minister, 94 million euros were donated to UNHCR to support Syrian refugees and people uprooted by conflict and drought in the Horn of Africa.
Three people, among them, a grandmother and a three-year-old baby, died from scorpion stings and snake bites reported the head of the Scorpion Project in Camp 4 of the Kakuma Refugee camp.
Kakuma, a camp in Northwestern Kenya, is home to 244,000 (October 2022 UNHCR & GOK Statistics) refugees from different neighboring countries and also home to some of the deadliest species such as scorpions, poisonous snakes, centipedes and spiders, according to lead researcher, Godfrey
The inspiration for keeping and monitoring these creatures stemmed from nothing but keeping the “refugee community safe. Kalobeyei is safer than the 4 camps of Kakuma because the more trees, the higher the snakes, scorpions and spiders are off the ground.”
“For almost three decades, refugees have been exposed to stings and snakebites. Many have lost their loved ones, and some are left with amputated fingers, arms, and legs but never get attention from any stakeholder,” said Godfrey. According to him, these incidents reflect a bigger health challenge in Kakuma. A recent incident provides an example of the seriousness of this issue:
In September 2022, a 65-year-old South Sundance woman from Kakuma 4 was pronounced dead after two days of being admitted at the IRC Kakuma 4 hospital. The deceased was stung by a Parabuthus Maximus scorpion on her right leg during the night and she died two days after being admitted. Additionally, a three-year-old boy from the same community in Kakuma 4 was also stung and died while en route to the hospital, according to Godfrey.
“After the sting, grandma didn’t get her leg or body swelling. Yet she was in pain; she was just saying things we couldn’t understand. She could sing in that state. She then lost consciousness after 45 minutes,” said the woman’s granddaughter in an interview with Scorpion project.
Parabuthus is a genus of large and highly venomous Afro-tropical scorpions, that show a preference for areas of low rainfall like Kakuma and the new settlement. Due to their stings’ quick-acting venom, they rely to a lesser extent on their slender pinchers (chelae) to hold onto prey.
A female Parabuthus pallidus is the second most harmful among scorpion species found in the Kakuma refugee camp and the new settlement.
The dangerous symptoms of a poisonous scorpion bite are excessive sweating, nervousness, vomiting and high blood pressure. In scorpion bites, the venom affects the heart; consequently, death occurs due to heart-related symptoms. This is also the case for scorpion bites. However, a drug called Prazosin works like a miracle in the treatment of scorpion bites to prevent death. All that is needed is timely treatment.
Most refugees in Kakuma have been sleeping on the uncemented floors and are susceptible to venomous snake bites and Scorpion stings at night.
Depending on the poison they have, the venomous snakes can be grouped into two categories: neurotoxic and haemolytic. A bite by a neurotoxic snake results in the dropping/paralysis of eyelids (Ptosis). This is the earliest symptom and alarm bell in a person that has been bitten. Ptosis is followed by difficulty in swallowing food or drinking water, which may progress to respiratory symptoms, such as difficulty breathing, and finally bodily paralysis.
According to him, Scorpion Project Center is a community-based initiative led by refugees in response to the high rate of stings and snake bites. It aims to create, promote and keep a safe environment among refugees, humanitarian workers and host communities by providing relevant information on the venomous species around Kakuma.
Speaking on challenges faced by the center, Godfrey said, “once we had many scorpions but now, we have a few as we lost many creatures due to very hot temperatures and lack of food, unable to feed them cockroaches due to lack of budget and the same with the snakes, we just freed seven snakes recently due to a lack of breeding rats and lizards.”
For places like Kakuma refugee camp, “keeping the compound clean, putting the shelter in order and moving with light during nighttime could reduce the incidence,” could help.
“For the last 8 months, we haven’t had rain in the region. And the rate of stings and snakebites has considerably reduced contrary to the rain period.”
Speaking on what one could do in case of a Scorpion sting, Godfery had this advice to give: “first rush to the health facilities. But if you were far from the health facilities, just find a rope and tie it tightly to where the sting is, it could be in the hand and leg to minimize the flow of the venom towards the heart, then cut slightly around the place where the sting took place to allow some of the venom to flow out with blood. Also, drinking milk or honey as anti-venom could help.”
A community leader who lived in Kakuma for 7 years, said “one way to curb this incident is to give regular training for community health workers like training them on the management of scorpion and snake bites. Concerned organizations should also take the responsibility for easy availability of rabies vaccines, anti-snake and scorpion venom and other medication.”
The level of incidents of snake bites and scorpion stings in the Kakuma refugee camp is not fully known; an attempt we made to get the details from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) remains unanswered.
World Refugee Day 2022 ceremony commemorated at Kalobeyei village 2 with the theme of ensuring every person has the right to seek safety whoever they are, wherever they come from and whenever they are forced to flee.
During the commemoration, various guests including Government representatives, UNHCR County representatives, UNHCR partners and other humanitarian organization representatives, goodwill Ambassador Yiech Pur Biel, refugee leaders from Kakuma and the new settlement attended and made speeches at the event in Kalobeyei settlement, Village 2.
For our fellow refugees, who did not get the chance to attend the event, we managed to transcribe speeches made by representatives from the United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the Department for Refugees Service (DRS).
Madam Winnie Guchu- the chief administrator secretary ministry of interior and coordination of the national government,
Our distinguished guest of honour today Mr.Lucas Katee Mwanza, the Commissioner for refugee services, Department of Refugees service, The County commissioner, excellencies, all representatives of the government of Kenya, representative of the county government of Turkana, goodwill Ambassador, Pur Biel,
Members of the refugee and the host communities, UNHCR partners and UNHCR colleges, ladies and gentlemen,
Today is World Refugee Day – a day to honour the courage, strength and contribution of the millions of people around the world who have been forced to flee their homes due to violence, war or persecution.
It is a day to remember that will help by welcoming communities and neighbours, people can rebuild their lives and their networks and even thrive. This is also a day when we honour refugees who bring with them their cultures, their unique experiences and their hope all of this makes communities stronger and more vibrant.
Our DRS College just mentioned that recently we marked a great milestone. The number of people forced to flee conflict, war, persecution and human rights abuses crossed the 100 million mark for the first time on record.
By being here today, you have shown that you stand with refugees and that you are committed to solving the problems at the root of this displacement, violence and persecution.
The theme of this year’s world refugee day is every person has the right to seek safety, whoever they are, wherever they come from and whenever they are forced to flee. This theme speaks to the core of UNHCR’s mandate and who we are.
We all share the responsibility to protect people seeking safety and to safeguard the following five principles led out in international law,
The right to asylum, ensuring safe access, ensuring that no one is pushed back to a country where their lives or freedom would be threatened, no discrimination and like all human beings ensuring that people forced to flee are treated with dignity and respect.
Kenya has a long-standing history of spending some three decades welcoming and offering protection to refugees.
During the Covid -19 pandemic, Kenya has demonstrated how it can protect public health while simultaneously protecting the right to seek asylum.
Quarantine centers were set up right here in the camps to ensure that those seeking protection could access them while also protecting fellow refugees and Kenyan communities from exposure to the virus.
It is our collective responsibility to ensure that people have access to asylum but our responsibility does not end there.
People who have been forced to flee homes and almost everything else behind needs a chance to rebuild which means letting newcomers go to school, find work, go to a doctor, seek mental health services and thrive.
Today we are homered to be joined by Pur Biel, UNHCR goodwill ambassador and former refugee who was forced to flee South Sudan at the age of 10. In Kenya, Pour was given the opportunity to practice what he loves –RUNNING right here in his former home of Kakuma.
After cultivating his talent in Kakuma, Pour made history by competing for the first-ever refugee team in Rio, in 2016 and was selected as a team leader for the refugee Olympic team in Tokyo 2020.
Earlier this year, he was also elected as a member of the international Olympic committee becoming the first refugee to join the organization.
Pur, you are a true athlete and role model for many refugees and young people.
It is our responsibility to ensure that those who are forced to flee can re- bullied their lives free from discrimination. We must continue to welcome them as equal partners in creating long-term solutions for the chance to return home and be safe to do so to integrate locally or in the most urgent cases to resettle to a third country.
The Government of Kenya recently enacted the refugees act 2021 and taken a progressive decision to shift from a policy of enactment to integrated settlements ensuring that both refugees and communities hosting them mutually benefit
We commend the government of Kenya for its achievement and tireless effort to safeguard refugee rights from seeking safety to realizing comprehensive long-lasting durable solutions. Asante Sana, the government and the people of Kenya.
On behalf of UNHCR Kenya, I strongly believe that everyone has the right to seek safety whoever they are, wherever they come from whenever they nodded
Thank you verity much,
Asante Sana. “
Caroline Van Buren.
UNHCR Kenya Country Representative.
“Good afternoon, I will have just a few words to say. One is to appreciate the chief guest and to appreciate the UNHCR country rep for accepting to come and team up with our county commissioner and ourselves and the refugees, our brothers and sisters from different countries in Africa and the world. Thank you very much.
As we celebrate this brotherhood today and the sisterhood of our fellow Africans, fellow human beings from different parts of the country who live here. I want to appreciate it a lot.
Secondly, I would like to thank the organizers of this event. You have done very very well. We have seen a lot of dances and indeed Yes to be a refugee doesn’t mean that you forget everything that you have done in the past and is not forget the culture.
You are at home. You are in a brother’s home. Thank you very much for those beautiful dances that we have seen from different groups of the host communities and the refugees who are here.
I want also to take this opportunity to appreciate the county government of Turkana led by governor Nanok and his team for the support and the host community for the support that you have extended to our brothers and sisters who live here and live here very hormonally with yourselves, thank you very much indeed the people of Turkana led by your leaders. Asanteni Sana.
I will also thank the UNHCR for its cooperation with the Department of Refugees in offering services to the refugees in various parts of the country and especially the refugees who are here in this Kakuma and Kalobeyei settlement area.
Thank you very much for the cooperation and I request that that cooperation continues between our organizations that will go a very long way in assisting our brothers and sisters who live in this area
Secondly, I want to commit that we continue offering the services to the refugees as we have done and we will seek to improve our services every day and in every encounter with the refugees that we serve.
We commit ourselves that we are going to improve in the registration, I know we had a backlog that has not been addressed for some time. We do everything to ensure that we clear that backlog in the determination of the status of refugees. So, we commit ourselves to doing everything to clear those backlogs. At the same time, we continue protecting the refugees in the country and continue engaging in continuous activities to empower the refugees in various ways as they continue living here until things get better in their countries of origin.
As a department, we will be serving you with a lot of transparency and openness feel free to approach us anytime. Any time any of our officers are open and available to you so that they can be able to serve you to guide you when you are in the country.
It is important for anybody who is not registered to come forward and present themselves for registration by our officers here based in Kakuma Refugee camp. Those who are coming because some of them you may know also, pass the same information immediately that somebody crosses the border and enters into the country, please let them present themselves to the nearest government offices so that they can start the registration process as a refugee.
Thank you very much, we continue to implement programs together, programs like this one, we are happy that the partners with the Department of Refugees have taken bold steps forward to assist the refugees in this area in various ways a quite number of organizations both governmental, nongovernmental and humanitarian organizations who assisting refugees in this area and I want to now also thank them for the great job they are doing to support the refugees.
Lastly, please let us abide by the law, once we abide by the law, certainly you will be able to develop together and progress and become self-reliant.
Once more thank you very much to each and every one of us led by our chief gust.
Speech by Katee Mwanza
Department of Refugee Service, Commissioner for Refugees.
In 2019, refugees in Kakuma Refugee Camp piloted a waste management project to keep their environment clean. Based on the principles of environmental sustainability, Fraternity for Development Integrated (FRADI) – a refugee-led organization – initiated a recycling project in Kakuma 2 to safeguard the environment and health of the community. By converting waste into useful products, the organization has now embarked on a journey to address pressing social, environmental and climate challenges.
“Six years ago, in 2013, a similar community-based project was launched to reduce waste pollution in the camp, but it was discontinued due to a lack of waste disposal space,” Rafael recalls.
Over 400 women and 11 disabled individuals are now protecting their environment by collecting and recycling plastic and non-degradable products. Recycling is a method used to convert waste materials into useful products to be reused. The team starts the recycling process every morning by collecting waste materials in each block across the four camps of Kakuma Refugee Camp and three villages of Kalobeyei settlement. Typical waste materials collected include plastic chairs, aluminium cans, glass bottles, paper, wood, and plastics. They then transport these materials to Kakuma 2, Zone Block 2 to sort them into similar categories.
“Kakuma was so dirty, so we took the initiative and mobilized the community with an intention to clean our community and protect the environment,” says Rafael Basima, the project manager and a Congolese refugee who fled from the Democratic Republic of Congo in 2009. “The major concern is environmental health, and now we are working to curb climate change by reducing plastic and other waste that generates too much carbon.”
Recycling also reduces the energy required for sourcing and processing new raw materials, thus producing lower carbon emissions. It also potentially keeps methane-releasing waste out of landfill sites.
Kakuma Refugee camp, a three-decade-old camp, produced stockpiles of waste materials harmful to the environment and human beings. Waste disposal sites were the main challenge faced by organizations like FRADI. The camp was designed to have a maximum capacity of 70,000 residents, but by August 2022, the population had risen to over 200,000. This led to the Turkana County government allocating land for a new settlement that integrates both refugees and the host community about 40km northwest of Kakuma. “A lack of disposal space, especially in sub-camps, was one of our main challenges,” Rafael.
FRADI successfully secured one hectare of land in Kakuma 2 from the county government and an additional hectare of land from the Department of Refugee Service for its Kalobeyei project in Village 1. Last year, FRADI expanded its operation to the Kakuma and Kalobeyei towns areas inhabited by host communities.
The FRADI initiative has contributed significantly to the reduction of plastic waste in Kakuma, Kalobeyei and surrounding towns. “Since the project was launched in November 2019, more than 10 tons of plastic have been recycled, improving living conditions and generating income for the members,” Rafael added.
Through recycling technology, FRADI develops products to respond to the needs of the community. New recycled final products include pegs, cups, plates, school rulers and protective gear like COVID-19 masks. Currently, the organization has two processing machines used for recycling plastics. Through remelting and reforming processes, the organization recycles plastics into valuable new products to be resold to refugee communities. Income generated from sales of recycled items is used for operational expenses and generating income for its 500 members. The majority of FRADI’s members are refugee women from different nationalities. To date, FRADI sold 38 tons of semi-recycled materials to eight local companies in Nairobi.
According to Rafael, FRADI generates income every month from waste management. However, this achievement did not come easily. In the early days, women members faced strong cultural resistance from fellow refugee communities. “People used to joke and mock us.” For collecting plastics.
In a bid to address soil erosion, flooding and strong winds, in 2022, FRADI planted over 5000 trees in refugee camps and host communities. With over 200,000 refugees living in Kakuma and the new settlement, high demand for firewood, inadequate spaces for disposing liquid and solids, water shortages are some of the existing challenges in both camps. Many refugees have settled in resource scarce Kakuma and Kalobeyei areas, putting further pressure on trees, land, water, and wildlife.
“The 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) are integrated—they recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others, and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability,” UNDP Kenya states.
Trees produce oxygen and clean carbon dioxide. Without trees, life cannot continue. Trees also remove airborne particles from the air and reduce smog, thereby improving the air we breathe and our respiratory health. The work trees do in improving air quality is one of the most critical ways in which we benefit from trees. So far, FRADI planted over 9000 trees including mango, avocado and papaya trees in nearby host communities. On April 22, while commemorating World Earth Day with the theme of investing in our planet, the team planted 100 trees in host communities.
As climate change continues to be a pressing issue, supporting refugee-led grassroots organizations that are already making an impact like FRADI is one best ways to contribute to climate change efforts. It has been said that individual action towards climate change can lead to a greater collective impact in the future. According to the UN Campaign for Individual Action, changing the way we eat, travel, and use electricity can make a difference as two-thirds of global greenhouse gas emissions are emitted by private households.
When Speaking about the challenge, Rafaele said, “The major problem now for the organization is access to capital from local banks. However, banks are demanding assets to keep as security and FRADI does not have assets to offer to the local banks as security.
During this interview, FRADI requested a 5 million KSH loan targeting to plant 10,000 trees to create artificial forests inside host communities while offering 2000 jobs for both host and refugee youths through Kakuma Kalobeyei Challenge Fund (KKCF)- is a program of the International Finance Corporation (IFC), implemented with the Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund. |
COMMUNITY TALKING POINTS: Will the camp closure possibly affect you and your family?
No: To be honest, I think I am not the one affected. I feel it is the time to go. There is no benefit of staying at Kakuma Refugee Camp. – Baluu Wol from South Sudan, Journalist
Yes: I think this is not the right time to send us back where we fled from. – Solomon Hailu, from Ethiopia, Incentive staff
Yes: Lots of things will be affected. I don’t have much memory of my country because we grew up and studied in Kenya. If we are going back to our country, we will have nothing to go back to and two of my siblings are still in school. – Lizala Alfonzi Mare from Congo, Actress and Producer
Yes: My biggest worry is as you know my country is not safe at this time and I fear for the life of our family. We have been living in Kakuma Refugee Camp for the past 13 years and I am expecting to resettle to a third country. As a family we worry because we feel that we might lose this resettlement opportunity. – Ahmed Bari from Somalia, Freelancer
Yes: Kakuma has been our home for almost three decades for all, including people from your country. It will have a devastating consequence for everyone. – Deng Chan from South Sudan, Nurse
Yes: The effect will be negative. For big families and people who stayed more than two decades like me, I think the announcement is heartbreaking. All my children were born here, where will they go as they don’t have any attachment with Ethiopia? – Leta Ebbessa from Ethiopia, Nurse
Yes: It is really scary and the only thing we are going to do is just pray. – Jean Hakizimana from Burundi, Business owner
Yes: The announcement of camp closure has brought a lot of hopelessness in my personal life and family. I had a great hope of getting help from UNHCR but unfortunately, I don’t know what to do. – Rita Brown from Uganda,Yoga Instructor
Yes: I guess the effect will be very hard on all of us, not only on my family but also on the hosts living around the camp. – Achin Namazzi from Uganda, Primary teacher
Yes: I think the negative effect on refugees and their families will be heavier than the host and the NGO staff. – Evan Nura , Incentive staff
Yes: The decisions to close Kakuma Refugee Camp will have a lot of negative effects and implications on all of us. Maybe we can migrate to Uganda. – Baraki Alem from Eritrean, Social worker
Following the outbreak of COVID-19, remittances sent from the US and Western countries to Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei settlement have reduced significantly.
Global restrictions on the movement and activities of people because of the pandemic have affected the amount of money transferred to families and friends abroad who are living below the poverty line.
Remittances are a key source of income and lifeline for many families living in Kakuma Refugee Camp and the nearby Kalobeyei settlement. Studies have shown that remittances provide macroeconomic benefits as well as contribute to poverty reduction, especially for female-led households. The fall in remittance rates began after the outbreak of COVID-19.
According to remittance service providers in Kakuma, this trend is largely due to the loss of jobs and the movement restrictions in Western countries.
Remittance service providers in Kakuma 1, a section of the refugee camp, explained that the decline is significant and it is forcing them to shift their business model to make money in other ways. According to Abdi Hirsey, a well-known remittance provider in Kakuma 1, “the amount of support coming now is very small as compared to the support before the pandemic.”
Before the onset of the pandemic, refugees living in Kakuma were already facing many challenges, including suicide, trauma, limited access to services, human rights violations, and a lack of opportunities. COVID-19 only exacerbated both the health and socioeconomic situation of residents. It has severely impacted the livelihoods of long-term residents in the camp. Kakuma Refugee Camp reported its first COVID-19 case on 13th March 2020.
Since the pandemic, Western countries hosting refugees and migrants have introduced lockdown and movement restrictions to curb the spread of disease. While these measures save lives, they also come with unintended consequences for vulnerable populations, like refugees living in protracted situations in Kakuma Refugee Camp. Such measures put pressure on economies in the West, which leads to the drop in remittances sent to relatives in Africa and elsewhere.
Remittances are usually sent through a trust-based global financial transaction system called hawala, which is dominated by the Dahabshiil, Amel, Dalsan, and Iften financial institutions inside Kakuma Refugee Camp. A 2018 report by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) revealed that refugees draw income from a range of sources, relying on small businesses, aid, and remittances. Remittances sent through the above institutions and M-PESA agents, who use Safaricom’s money transfer service, came to at least USD 200,000 a month.
Launched by the Vodafone group and Safaricom in 2007, M-PESA is the largest mobile network operator in Kenya that offers payments and micro-financing services.
According to the IFC report, this monthly amount is likely due to the large diasporas of Ethiopians, Somalis, Congolese, Burundians and South Sudan nationals across North America, Europe and the Middle East.
Many refugees have been living off food relief and small e-vouchers from aid agencies, but these donations cannot sustain them for one month.
“I used to get $100 every two months before the COVID-19 outbreak, but now I am getting only $50 every two months,’’ Eva, a refugee in Kakuma 1, explained.
“To protect the economies, some countries also restrict the amount of currency [that can be sent to Kenya] to keep their [own] economy safe,” explained a remittance service provider who preferred to remain anonymous. According to him, his clients were receiving a lot more remittances from the US compared to the other western countries.
Since the outbreak, life for refugees in Kakuma Refugee Camp and the nearby Kalobeyei settlement has turned upside down. Most countries have put in place measures to support the most vulnerable segments of society by providing different economic benefits, including tax cuts for small and medium enterprises and income support for the neediest people. During this pandemic, the Kenyan government dedicated 10 billion KSh (USD 93 million) to support the elderly, orphans, and other vulnerable groups in the form of cash transfers. However, refugees living in Kenya have been left without any social protections or any economic stimulus packages.
Private sector businesses have also introduced different schemes to support their customers. But these benefits are a pie in the sky for refugees living inside Kakuma Refugee Camp and Kalobeyei settlement. Safaricom, the giant telecommunication provider in Kenya, together with Central Bank of Kenya (CBK), waived money transaction charges and raise daily limits for mobile transactions to reduce cash handling in order to curb the spread of the virus. Although Safaricom is the sole telecom provider in the camp, as 48 per cent of the total refugee population are subscribers, refugees were excluded from the waiver because of their refugee status.
In Kakuma Refugee Camp, donors have been looking at new ways they can support the most vulnerable refugee communities: widows, single mothers, unaccompanied minors, the elderly, people with disabilities, the LGBTIQ community, and people with chronic illnesses. A six-month donation scheme has begun in February 2021. Under the scheme, 100 KSh (USD 1) per day would be sent directly to the phones of the most vulnerable, but the program is expected to end in August 2021.
This new method of supporting refugees could be a revolutionary game changer in the Kakuma Refugee Camp. However, economists argue that people receiving any kind of aid risk becoming reliant, and suggest that time-limited cash aid that keeps people out of refugee camps seems to have a lower risk of incentivizing learned helplessness.
About 1,000 refugees have so far received the assistance according to the Twitter handle of the program coordinator. Although such support can alleviate urgent needs, according to the economists, this type of aid does little to help self -reliance.
Following the recent spike in suicide cases, concerned aid agencies have showed some interest in re-initiating a mental health counseling service in all centers all over the camp, but many refugees have expressed concern with the quality of mental health services, saying that they are unsatisfactory.
Given that the amount of humanitarian aid provided to Kakuma’s refugees is expected to further decline, it is vital to predict the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on the lives of refugees.
Concerned stakeholders should continue to come up with different strategies to address existing challenges and increase their support to neglected refugees.
The weather in Kakuma Refugee Camp is generally characterized by humid and high temperatures (over 35 degrees Celsius /95 Fahrenheit). January, February, and March are the hottest months, with temperatures reaching 38 degrees Celsius/100.4 Fahrenheit.
The short rainy season occurs from November–December and the long rainy season starts in mid-March and ends in June. The Camp is surrounded by desert and dehydrated landscapes with thorny short bushes. During the dry season (July – August through September), the Kakuma camps were hit hard by water shortages.
Kakuma Refugee Camps have experienced water shortages before, but the problem was never as serious as it is now. The water shortage has been a serious challenge since July 2021 and some water taps of different communities have been dry for days.
“Before the crisis, water was rationed two times per day for almost all communities: in the morning between 7:00 am and 9:00 am and then during lunch hour between 12:00 noon and 2:00 pm,” said Zerihun Lemma, 65-year-old and father who leads a community in Kakuma 3.
Leaders like Zerihun pointed out that the water crisis could bring dangerous consequences during COVID-19.
Refugees have experienced severe water shortages since the beginning of the dry season. People have been leaving their community and traveling long distances to fetch water. Some are forced to buy water from informal traders who sell 20 liters of a jerrycan of water at KSh 30-50.
“Our taps have been dried for a couple of days. It is a pity to see old women and children waiting and begging for over half a day at the gates of NGOs, schools, and field offices. We are asking for an urgent intervention from UNHCR and NRC,” said a leader who wished to remain anonymous.
UNHCR’s water policy allows one to take a minimum of 20-litre of water per person per day, however, people are accustomed to taking more than the recommended minimum amount. Previously, larger families have opted to buy water from women refugees traders to avoid long queues and potential conflicts.
“There has been a three-month water shortage, which is forcing us to buy from local vendors who sell at KSh 50 per 20-litre jerrycan,” said Halima Aden, a Kakuma 1, Zone 1, and Block 5 resident.
In Kakuma 1, which has a high population density, water shortage can provoke conflict between members of communities.
Women selling water fill gaps for people who want to avoid potential conflicts, and selling water is a livelihood source for women living in Kakuma 1.
The traders have been supplying water to Ethiopian and Somali communities at KSh 20 per 20-litre, but members from the host community have recently been selling water at a higher price of KSh 50 per 20-litre to Kakuma 1 refugees.
“I used to get between KSh 300-400 every day. But now, this income is no longer available.” Regina, a water trader, in Kakuma 1.
Selling water was important for people like Regina, as the income helps her provide nutritious food for her children. For many years, such work has been a means of surviving for Regina and her family.
But about a month ago, Regina, a mother of seven children, faced a difficult situation because she could no longer sell water, which has forced her to sell her personal valuables, including a gold necklace, to survive.
“You have to wake up early and queue the entire day to get a 20-litre jerrycan of water, which is not even enough for our daily needs.” Regina said.
Poverty and the lack of income opportunities affect all refugees. However, in Kakuma and Kalobeyei, women are more likely to face distinct and difficult challenges due to camp living situations- as women often go miles outside of camp location to look for water for their families.
The rainfall in Turkana can be highly erratic and unpredictable. “If there is rain in the county, we will not experience water shortage,” said Ibrahim, a leader in Kakuma 1, Zone 1, and Bock 4.
As Ibrahim said, the availability of water is positively correlated with the cumulative rainfall the country receives during a given period. The National Drought Management Authority of Turkana County (NDMA) also supports Ibrahim’s claim. As per July 2021, NDMA forecasted that “dispersed rainfall with temporal distribution of 1-2 days was experienced in some sections of Turkana West.”
However, Regina did not see this coming.
Given the current pandemic and hot climate in Kakuma, refugees need additional water for drinking, cleaning dishes and cloths, taking baths, and cooking meals.
“The violence is now a daily routine at water palaces in most places of Kakuma 3,” Andersen said, a community leader in Kakuma 3. Due to water shortages and rationing, the community members have fight at water points and tensions have existed. Taps are often dry but community members have often lined up at the water point, where there are days when taps are empty.
Besides the dry season and hot weather, maintenance and infrastructural problems have created water shortage, which may lead inter-communal violence in the camps.