Remittances Are Down, and Suicides Are Climbing in One Kenyan Refugee Camp.

The worldwide financial downturn caused by COVID-19 is one more reason to lose hope, for some of the most vulnerable.

Remittances, commonly defined as earnings sent back to the home country by migrants, are a key source of income and lifeline for many families living in Kakuma refugee camp and the nearby Kalobeyei settlement in northwest Kenya. Beyond the macroeconomic benefits of remittances, studies show that they have a significant poverty reduction effect, especially for female-headed households. 

But following the outbreak of COVID-19, remittances from the US and Western countries to Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei settlement have dropped, according to remittance service providers. 

Providers believe this could mainly be due to the loss of jobs and restrictions on movement in Western countries. The pandemic provoked global restrictions on the movement of people and activities, considerably affecting how much money is received by the families and friends of those abroad, who are dwelling below the poverty line.

Remittance service providers in Kakuma 1, a section of the refugee camp, mentioned that the decline in the amount is enormous and is forcing them to shift their business to make money in other ways. According to Abdi, a well-known remittance provider in Kakuma 1, “the amount of support coming now is very small per month as compared to the support before the pandemic.”

Even before the onset of the pandemic, refugees living in Kakuma faced a range of challenges, including suicide, trauma, limited access to services, human rights violations, and a lack of opportunities. COVID-19 came with a lot of cumulative effects, not only in terms of health but also from socio-economic angles. It has impacted livelihoods in a way which is particularly severe for refugees who have been in the camp a long time. Kakuma Refugee camp reported its first COVID-19 case on 13 March, 2020.

Refugees wating for Relife food at Food Distribution Center 1 ,Kakuma 1.

Since the pandemic, Western countries hosting refugees and migrants have been in partial lockdown and movement restrictions have been introduced 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 has resulted in a sudden drop in the amount of money that has been sent to relatives in Africa and elsewhere.

Remittances are usually sent through the 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 and aid, along with remittances. The latter—sent through the above institutions and transfer agents, who use Safaricom‘s money transfer service—came to at least $200,000 per month.

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. Most refugees live on a handful of relief food and small e-voucher donations from aid agencies which cannot sustain them for even one month. Currently, in the Kakuma refugee camp, relief food is only distributed only once every two months.

“I used to get 100 USD every two months before the COVID-19 outbreak, but now I am getting only 50 USD every two months,’’ Eva, a refugee in Kakuma 1, explained. Most remittances, which refugees see as essential sources of income, fill the gaps since they can be used to purchase household consumptions—particularly food items.

Many countries put in place measures to support the most vulnerable segments of society during the pandemic by issuing different economic benefits, including various tax cuts to support the neediest people. For instance, the Kenyan government dedicated 10 billion KSh (93 million US dollars) 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.

For example, as in the U.S., some companies offered special COVID benefits to customers last year. One of these was Safaricom, the sole telecom provider in the camp. In an effort to reduce public health risk through the use of cash, Safaricom waived certain fees for M-PESA, a service which is one way for refugees and other Kenyans to collect remittances from abroad. But so few refugees are eligible for the  M-PESA service that the benefits did little to help them.

In Kakuma refugee camp, donors have been looking at new ways they can support the most vulnerable refugee communities. In February, 2021, an initiative of the World Economic Forum called Global Shapers committed six months of donations via two entities: a microfinance nonprofit called Refugee Integration, and an organization called Impact Market, a “decentralized poverty alleviation protocol” which uses blockchain technology. The donations were intended to support the vulnerable by sending 100 KSh ($1) per day directly to M-PESA users. So far, Global Shapers claims to have assisted about 1,295 refugees, which will continue depending on the availability of funding. With 160,000 refugees in the camp as of January, this group represents .8 percent of Kakuma residents.

In many ways, this way of supporting refugees is a game changer in the Kakuma refugee camp, and is potentially revolutionary. However, economists argue that people receiving any kind of donor aid risk becoming reliant on it, and suggest that time-limited cash aid that keeps people out of refugee camps seems to have a lower risk of provoking learned helplessness.

Following the recent spike in suicide, 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 express concern with the quality of mental health services, saying it remains unsatisfactory. As per Julisha.info, a nonprofit platform for information sharing for refugees living in Kenya, 15 refugees attempted suicide while 6 refugees completed suicide this year between January-June 2021. 

Since the amount of humanitarian aid provided to Kakuma’s refugees is expected to decline even more, it is very important to predict how much greater the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be on the lives of refugees. Concerned stakeholders should continue to come up with different strategies to address the existing challenges and amplify their support to the neglected refugees.

Resources:

The Effects of International Remittances on Poverty and Inequality in Ethiopia (Journal of Development Studies, 2014)Migration, remittances and household welfare in Ethiopia (United Nations University – Maastricht Economic and Social Research Institute on Innovation and Technology, 2014)

Beyond Training: Supporting Refugee Girls Who Believe in Themselves

In Kakuma and Kalobeyei, which host over 200,000 refugees, women and children comprise 76 % of the total refugee population. Of this sum, 49%are women living in dire circumstances which most people would never even wish to visit.

Winnie Achola is a 24 year old refugee from South Sudan and  is one of the thousands of refugees who have been forced to flee their homes. Achola now resides in Village 3 of the Kalobeyei Settlement. Kalobeyei, an extension of the Kakuma refugee camps, hosts over 40,000 refugees from different countries of origin and was designed to integrate refugees within the host community. When asked about safety in Kalobeyei, Winnie explained some of her concerns: “Here days will pass without hearing a gunshot or a scream of a woman calling out for help…but spending the night alone with my daughter was so scary.”

When Achola first arrived in Kalobeyei, it was not hard for her to imagine how stressful and traumatic life would be: “I remember it was too windy and very deserted, like it never rained for centuries.”

Without any support and no opportunities, Achola and her daughter felt unsafe and stressed. She also admits that building a new life was not easy and included many challenges: “I used to spend the nights crying  and blaming the situations that brought us to this bad environment,” she narrates . “Down inside nothing was ok but I had to be strong,” Achola added.

However, Achola had strong aspirations to survive and raise her daughter. She found that the biggest challenges for women in Kalobeyei are poverty and sexual violence.

Poverty and lack of income opportunities affect all refugees. In Kakuma and Kalobeyei, for example, recent research on self-reliance by the University of Oxford indicates that refugees living in both the camp and the settlement are far from achieving self-reliance outcomes. The report concludes that very few refugees living in Kalobeyei, at all, can be characterized as self-reliant.

However, women are more likely to face distinct and difficult challenges, including gender-based violence due to camp living conditions.

Picture 1  Achola at her office .Credit to Jiba

Living in Kalobeyei was especially hard for Achola as she could not find employment and lacked marketable skills. “I finished form 4, I love singing and I am passionate about telling stories of people and have good sound and I am a good speaker too,” she said. She started looking for an income that could buy at least a meal for both her and her daughter.

“As a single mother I decided to do something to support me and my daughter,” she recalls.“So one day I went to the local FM at village one and asked them if they could offer me a volunteer job,” she added.

Luckily, Acholagot acalland a month later, she started volunteering at local FM station However, she only stayed there for three months due to the distance between her home and the office: “I was walking 45 minutes from my village to the station and I couldn’t get anything out of it, but it helped me to meet my current employers.” While volunteering at the station, one day her current employer had a meeting with the station team. At that meeting, Achola had the chance to present her views on certain agenda points: “I stood up and presented my views and I did it well,” she said as she reflected on how the door to her current opportunity opened that day.

Achola, conducting an Interview

Later, Achola joined a journalism training program offered by one of the humanitarian organizations in Kakuma. The agency has been supporting youth like Achola from Kakuma and Kalobeyei through various digital skills training, including basic journalism, photography and videography.

I met Winnie at content generators training, a program that was organized by camp-based agencies nine months ago where we were both trained on basic journalism skills and other valuable soft skills.

Through the training program, Achola learned not only basic skills for journalism but also how to create, process and distribute content. She is now working as a content generator at the same organization; the content she produced was later delivered to her communities through offline broadcasting means. “I learned how to write radio drama script, learned new things that I have never had before,” Achola said. With these valuable skills, she can now stand on her own feet: “I am so passionate about my work because I am able to buy something for my daughter and keep me busy and prevent me from engaging myself with bad peer groups,” Achola explained.

Achola recognizes that there are many girls out there facing a lot of problems who do not have any support systems or people to talk to.“Some of them ended up committing suicide just because there was no body they could turn to,” said Achola. “The agency should organize more programs that will empower girls,” she added.

More skills training centers like this are needed in Kalobeyei and other places as all refugees and displaced women and girls grapple with an immense amount of trauma. They deserve ways out of deep poverty. More displaced young girls also deserve the possibilities of acquiring life skill training so that they can empower themselves and create opportunities like Achola was enabled to do.

Despite Persistent Violence Due to Ethnic Extremism, Communities in Kakuma Refugee Camp Remain Resilient

 Turkana County is the second largest of 47 counties in Kenya, covering an area of 1.5976km2 and accounting for 13.5% of the total land area in the republic. Tukana west, one of the sub county’s , is located 408 miles north west from the capital ,Nairobi.

Most households in the county rely on livestock farming, the energy sector, which is driven by the Turkwel Hydro power plant, and the oil and gas sector as livelihood means. Turkana West is also a home of diversified communities.

Today, Kakuma Camp & Kalobeyei Settlement in Turkana West accommodate almost 200,000 people of 21 diverse nationalities who have been living peacefully with host populations. Such a diverse community can ultimately enrich culture, languages and the economy.

Kakuma is home to refugees from diverse origins such as Somalia, Ethiopia, Burundi, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Uganda, Rwanda and South Sudan. The biggest groups are the South Sudanese, Somalis and Congolese. Remarkably, these communities have been able to develop a sense of resilience against violent ethnic extremism.

Kakuma Refugee Camp has four sub-camps, which are numbered in the order they were opened. These sub-camps are like small towns, comprising of a mix of mud and iron sheet homes and commercial centers. 

The nationalities in Kakuma differ greatly among four the sub-camps. Kakuma one, two and three have diverse populations, while Kakuma four, hosting recent refugee arrivals, is primarily home to the South Sudanese. A recent study by International Finance Corporation shows that Kakuma’s economy is highly driven by refugees and estimates the total annual consumption to be 1.7 billion KSH due to the diversity of the community.

Over the years, Kakuma has built a diverse community. The presence of such a heterogeneous community in Kakuma has created both opportunities and challenges.

Urbanization is one of the advantages of having diversified communities in Kakuma and this is due to the influx of diverse refugee settlement in Turkana west.

The recently launched Kalobeyei Integrated Socio-Economic Development Project (KISEDP), which is expected to benefit both host and refugee communities, is likewise dependent on the diverse communities in the county.

KISEDP is a government-led, area-based, community centered, and a market-based initiative and it will directly and indirectly benefit the Turkana West population, which is home to 200,000 refugees and 320,000 longstanding host residents.

It was launched in 2015 after the UNHCR and the Government of Kenya agreed to pilot a new approach to refugee protection that promotes self-reliance of both refugees and host communities by increasing livelihood opportunities and inclusive service delivery.

The new approach was built upon “choice theory”, which favors creating an enabling environment that allows refugees and host communities to maximize their potential. Recently, Lodwar Town has been granted an upgraded municipality status and Kakuma-Kalobeyei is planned to be constituted as a Municipality, due to urbanization driven by an increase in diverse communities and markets.

KISEDP was officially launched in December 2018 with a 15-years vision. The project is expected to benefit half a million people, out of which 40% are refugees communities from East African countries.

According to the KISEDP document, the presence of diverse communities in Kakuma and the new settlement have an overall beneficial and permanent impact on Turkana’s economy, boosting the county’s Gross Regional Product (GRP) by over 3%, increasing total employment by about 3 percent, promoting economic integration, and increasing per capita host incomes by 6%. 

Having a diverse multinational community also poses serious challenges. The main challenge has been recurrent ethnic-based violent extremism. While Kakuma can be said to be a melting pot of different nationalities and ethnicities, such diversity can also be a recipe for conflict if ethnic extremism is left unchecked.

Violence has been in Kakuma since its inception, and the reasons for such conflicts are multi-layered and complex. These conflicts could arise because of poverty, resources, ethnicity, and gender-based violence. 

Violence due to ethnic extremism between different ethnic groups has flourished in recent years. Violent conflicts involving one or more clans or ethnic groups have become widespread and increasingly severe in the refugee camp.  The recent conflict between two South Sudan tribes is a good example.

Two individuals were persistently quarrelling due to memory cards from two different ethnic groups will turn to inter -communal violence and might take lives, disrupt peace and affect communities’ peaceful coexistence. 

Picture: Communities at Block 1 Zone 8 resolving disputes before it reaches to conflict 

Despite having challenging or threatening circumstances, communities in Kakuma have found ways to live together in peace for almost three decades and become more resilient.

My community, Kakuma 1, is a small city with a medley of communities and sub-communities, which include different economic activities like shops, where you can buy almost everything you can imagine wholesalers, or Ethiopian restaurants, which are popular among camp residents, NGO staff, and visitors.

Over time, communities in Kakuma  have been building different social bonds, bridges, and links between and among communities, individuals, and institutions to combat ethnic-based violent extremism. 

Remarkably, different peace building initiatives have increased resilience in Kakuma camp. One may be easily surprised by the resilience of communities, the established businesses, and the extensive social relations of refugees.

Refugees of different backgrounds socialize together, visit each other, attend weddings and funerals of different communities, and perform religious activities.

They compete in soccer and boxing and they worship in the same churches. These activities have built trust and communication between two or more communities or sub-groups.Some refugee men have also married Turkanas. All these social connections have been recognized to reduce violence, helped the communities to become more resilient, and strengthened social cohesion.

Kakuma Refugees Are Getting Vaccinated—but the Global Rollout Is a Fiasco

In April 2021, during  World Health Week, the first phase of the COVID-19 vaccination program for refugees and asylum seekers living in Kakuma and Kalobeyei was being rolled out at Ammusait General Hospital, Clinic 7 and Natukubenyo Health Centre, respectively.

In Kakuma, the first phase sought to prioritize health workers, security personnel, teachers, other critical service providers and refugees who are 58 and older. These groups are now eligible to receive their first vaccine dose from Monday to Friday between 8:30am- 3:00pm. Accordingly, around 2800 refugees, who account for 3% of the total refugee population, are expected to get priority access to COVID vaccines in the first phase of the roll-out.

On World Health Day, UN High Commission for Refugees Filippo Grandi called for vaccine equity: “The blatant imbalances observed in vaccine-sharing among states are counterproductive and shortsighted. A ‘my country first’ approach just cannot work in a pandemic that knows no borders.”

Kakuma reported its first positive case on 13 March, 2020.  As of April 30, 2021, the positivity rate was 7% among refugees and 4.9% among humanitarian workers, with the total number of cases and refugee deaths being 935 and 12, respectively.

As per recent UNHCR statistics, children who are younger than 18account for 52 % of the total population, suggesting that 104,000 refugees are excluded from the vaccine roll out entirely in Kakuma and Kalobeyei. Conversely, this means that 48 % of the total refugee population, constituting approximately 96,000 people, are eligible for vaccination in Kakuma and Kalobeyei.

Refugees taking the first dose

Photo by Wal Makuach

“During the first phase 2000 jabs of the AstraZeneca vaccine have been allocated for refugees,” said a doctor at Clinic 7, who wishes to remain anonymous.  He added that “the shortages will be revealed at the later phases” of the vaccine roll out.

The arrival of COVID-19 vaccine is a ripe opportunity for refugees, whose livelihoods rely mainly on humanitarian assistance from aid agencies, as they are not able to adhere to preventive measures and lack access to essential goods to prevent the spread of COVID-19 (e.g. hand sanitizer and other sanitary goods).

Throughout the camp, misinformation has been circulating since the outbreak of the COVID-19 to justify reluctance to wear masks  and again now several myths and misconceptions are being put forth to deter vaccination. The implications of this misinformation have been that many refugees are refusing the vaccine, even when it is available for free.

An outreach volunteer who was vaccinated at FilmAid international said “I took the first dose of the Covishield and I am still ok.”

According to the doctor at Clinic 7, “vaccine hesitancy and misinformation” are the main challenges being exhibited during the first phase of the campaign and “so far over 1000 refugees have been vaccinated,” a figure much smaller than the total number of refugees eligible for vaccination.

“In the first place, I will not take this vaccine, because the virus is the wrath of God up on us, read Revelation 19:15 if you don’t believe me. The only solution is to pray,” said a 65 year old refugee who stated he will not be vaccinated.

UNHCR and religious institutions have been calling for fair distributions of the vaccine to low income countries and vulnerable groups, including refugees and asylum seekers. “We commend these countries for their exemplary dedication and leadership.By including refugees in their vaccine distribution, they mitigate the risks associated with exclusion and discrimination,” said Grandi.

On March 3, 2021, amid the third COVID-19 wave in Kenya, the Ministry of Health (MOH) received 1.02 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine and launched their vaccination campaign. Per the MOH, Kenya is using the AstraZeneca vaccine that is given in two doses; the roll out became available in all counties on  March 4, 2021. According to the Kenyan Ministry of Health directives, the first phase will run until the end of June 2021 and to boost effectiveness, the second dose will be administered 12 weeks after the first dose. In Kakuma and

Kalobeyei, the second dose will be administered after 8 weeks. The target population will be vaccinated in three phases between 2021 and 2023.

Kenya is one of the few countries in the world to start vaccinating refugees.

Kakuma 1

Kakuma refugee camp is located in the North-western region of Kenya. The camp/Kakuma 1/ was established in 1992 following the arrival of the “Lost Boys of Sudan”. During that year, large groups of Ethiopian refugees fled their country following the fall of the Ethiopian government. Somalia had also experienced high insecurity and civil strife causing people to flee

.Kakuma 1

Turkana Camels

Turkana Camels have a very good sight, and their eyes are surrounded by long lashes to protect them against winds and sand &34 sharp teeth which allow them to chew almost anything. Despite that they come from dry areas, they are good swimmers. Naturally they will rest during the hot days and feed in the cooler evenings

Suicides soar as refugees grapple with COVID-19

Although suicide is a common issue in displaced settings, its increased prevalence among refugees in Kakuma illustrates a serious and growing problem, which needs urgent intervention through a multi-sector approach. Suicides have been reported in both Kakuma Refugee Camp and the new Kalobeyei settlement. In January, camp residents were shocked that three people (including men and woman) were found dead in apparent suicides in less than one month.

Since the inauguration of former US President Donald Trump, suicides and suicide attempts by both women and men have risen in Kakuma Refugee Camp, as resettlement opportunities decreased. Citing an interview from the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Kakuma office, Citizen Media reported that nine refugees from Kakuma committed suicide in 2017, compared to three refugees in 2016.

Santino, a refugee leader in the new settlement of Kalobeyei, stated: “Life in the camp is getting worse every single day and that is what causes people to think of committing suicide. Improving life circumstances and providing psychological support can reduce suicide cases.”

The change in refugee resettlement policies, especially in the US, has greatly affected refugees living in Kakuma Refugee Camp. When the Trump administration began in January 2017, the resettlement processes of around14,000 Somali refugees were put on hold in Kenya alone. Most refugees had their hopes of the American dream dashed as the Trump administration maintained a tough refugee policy due to alleged security threats. However, according to a 2016 report on correlations between immigration and terrorism by the Cato Institute, a US-based think tank, the chance ofan American dying in a terrorist attack caused by a refugee is 1 in 3.64 billion.

Picture:

Local NGOs conducting a suicide prevention campaign

Recognizing the consequences of the suspension of resettlement to the US, the UNHCR briefed the international community how the situation in Kakuma Refugee Camp could unravel the coming years. In April 2018, the UNHCR report, stating that the mood in the camp was deteriorating and suicide rates were increasing.

Denza, a youth leader in Kakuma, told KANERE: “The causes of the rise in suicides are depression, stress, and hopelessness. UNHCR can address the problem by providing durable solutions, access to services, documentation, work opportunities and education.”

Living on emergency food assistance in confined spaces for decades, with zero or few income-generating opportunities, degrades refugees’ lives, at times causing them to self-harm. The Refugee Health Technical Center, a US-based refugee rights office, cites.

Individuals undergoing long asylum processes often experience anxiety and uncertainty regarding their future. This anxiety is increased by the dire economic situation faced by many, which can lead to attempts to self-harm.

Refugees whose situation remains unchanged for years, with no prospect of finding a solution to their problems, can easily become depressed and exposed to multi-dimensional mental health problems, including suicidal tendencies. Health infrastructures to address mental health problems in Kakuma and Kalobeyei are almost non-existent. Moreover, these have been seriously affected by the Trump presidency.  However, as outlined in the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2017 report on suicide prevention, suicide is a mental health problem which can be treated and prevented.

Hafso, a community leader at Kakuma 2, said: “It’s always caused by depression. Life gets tough, you don’t achieve your goals and your needs are not met. It’s in that situation that suicide can become an option.”

Suicide in Kakuma has been a serious refugee social health problem. However, suicides are preventable with timely, evidence-based and often low-cost interventions. Due to the complexity of the problem, responsibility for the effective prevention and reduction of suicide should not be left to a single entity or organization: social, cultural and economic elements must be strengthened to minimize incidents. Furthermore, an interagency suicide prevention approach must be adopted, with active participation from all sectors. Both national and international actors must step up to avert the looming humanitarian catastrophe in Kakuma Refugee Camp.

VOA commences FM Radio Stations for Refugees

Feb,2021

In December 2020, the Voice of America (VOA) launched new FM stations serving refugees living in Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps. The Kakuma office commenced operations on December 18, 2020 duringInternational Migrant Day. The new 99.9 FM station will serve both refugee and host communities with news, music, and educational content in English, Swahili and Somali.

VOA is the only international broadcaster in Kakuma and is expected to develop the media landscape and reshape narratives in both camps.Previously, broadcasting was controlled by aid agencies. The arrival of VOA maynot be good news for those who had been controlling media narratives.

“I have listened to VOA since I was very young and I know that VOA is an independent media station. If it operates in Kakuma,I hope it can give a better platform to air out real events in camp,” a Zonal Leader in Kakuma told KANERE.

Since the inception of refugee camps, media industries have been interested in reporting on camps around the world. In 2017, VOA began broadcasting in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, a camp consisting of mostly Rohingya refugees. Rohingya refugees have been denied the use of the Internet, including mobile phones, and by their host country, Bangladesh. VOA provides an important service in light of these restrictions.

“VOA is committed to providing vital news and information to underserved populations worldwide, including refugees and other forcibly displaced persons,” said VOA Director Robert Reilly, in a statement circulated for inauguration of both offices on December 18, 2020.

 After 30 years, thanks to donor funding, a community radio was launched at the new settlement. However, community access to radio became limited due to dominance of NGO productions, especially after the outbreak of COVID-19. Since NGO support was essential to keep the station running sustainably, the station had no choice but to report according to their funder’s interests.

“What I know is that REF FM Kakuma Radio is ironically called a refugee owned community radio station, but it’s officially owned by an NGO and refugees don’t have a voice to make any decision, “A village leader at the new settlement told KANERE.

Journalism student conducing interviews around Kakuma

Since 2020, the German state-owned international broadcaster, Deutsche Well Academia (DW), in partnership with GIZ office and Film Aid, has been training men and women of different nationalities from Kakuma and the new settlement in media and journalism.

For almost three decades, the only trusted sources of information about Kakuma for the outside world were aid agencies working alongside refugees. Most stories produced by aid agencies present a single point of view and focus on funding and branding.

In addition to providing refugees with information, VOA will play a watchdog role regarding accountability and good governance within refugees’ camps.

In places like Kakuma, a refugee camp with few civil societies, having independent media like VOA will create participatory communication between aid agencies and their beneficiaries. In addition to serving as a bridge, refugees see VOA as an institution thatserves public interest rather than private economic gain.

“We believe in the power of journalism as a tool to empower and engage well-informed citizens, and we believe that our mix of news, cultural, and educational content can enrich the lives of our new listeners in Kakuma,” said VOA Spokesperson, Anna Morris.

VOA, which is funded by the U.S.Congress, delivers programs on multiple platforms, including the radio, television, internet, and mobile via a network of more than 3500 media outlets worldwide.

NGO’s sees Freelancing as a Possible Source of Income for Refugees in Kakuma

February 3,2021

With diminished opportunities for third country resettlement for refugees, UNHCR and its partners have sought new solutions for the growing protracted refugee population in Kakuma and Kalobeyei.

As a response to the lack of economic opportunities in Kakuma, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) and the International Trade Center (ITC) have come up with a strategy to provide soft skills training to support refugee and host communities to achieve self-reliance. This strategy seeks to address refugee dependency on aid and to improve livelihoods. This strategy has received praise from refugees on its new approach to help refugees build their own livelihoods.

Refugee Employment and Skill Initiative(RESI) is a project initiated by the ITC and implemented by the NRC in Kakuma and in the Kalobeyei settlement. It has been running since 2018,and it uses trade-led and market-based solutions to create income-generating opportunities for refugees and host communities so that they can build towards economic self-reliance.

 “The training is helping me to get a job and I have been working as freelancer” Says, Martha Ali, a 2020 cohort.

The training offers attendees the opportunity to connect with employers to attain online freelance work.

Income-generating trainings have been implemented in Kakuma for decades, but they have not been as successful as developmental projects like refugee employment and life skill initiatives in helping refugees to attain partial financial independence. Like other trainings in Kakuma, RESI has challenges as well; however, with this time of limited and shrinking resources, life skills trainings have been seen as the best opportunity for refugees in Kakuma.

Skill training center at the new settlement

Life skills trainings like RESI has been gaining attentions from refugee’s community due to  the lack of opportunities for incentive work in Kakuma.  For decades, NGOs have hired refugees as incentive workers, in which they are paid a monthly rate that is far below the average salaries of their non-refugee Kenyan counterparts. This has been one of the only available income-generating opportunity  for Kakuma workforce. While incentive jobs have provided an avenue for some refugees to earn a small monthly income, thus fostering some hope for a few, the availability of such opportunities has been shrinking due to funding cuts and Covid-19.

“The lack of access to electricity and network connectivity are the major challenges freelancers have been facing in Kakuma ” says Ide, a RESI Alumni, who is currently working as a freelancer at UP-work.

Even though total self-reliance is not completely possible for refugees in Kakuma, projects like RESI provide at least some opportunities for refugees to become partially independent.

English language, Digital Marketing and Entrepreneurship are few courses offered at the center in blended learning formats. 

In addition to providing skills-training, exposure to professional experiences, and networking opportunities, the NRC and the ITC could provide trainees with starter kits, small sums of credit, or other tools in order to increase the chances for refugees to become partially self-reliant. This would require inter-agency and intergovernmental coordination.

RESI is sponsored by the government of Netherlands and is designed to enhance economic capabilities of refugees.

Kakuma refugees predict improved resettlement if Biden wins

By November 2020

Since Trump took the US Presidency in 2016, refugee issues have been heavily politicized not only in US, the global leader in refugee resettlement and humanitarian support, but also in most European countries, where locals have expressed xenophobia towards refugees and asylum seekers.

The Trump administration claimed that they were restricting refugees from “terror prone” countries. But the policy affected refugees from all over the world. Many refugees from Kenya, including those in the US resettlement pipeline, have been living in fear, despair and uncertainty for the past 4 years. As people saw their dreams of resettlement slip away, the number of suicides and problems related with mental health within camp has also increased.

“I have great hope that Biden will restore back the things that Trump mess up during his administration. Biden will lift this Muslim ban to US,” says one Somali refugee, who had been in the resettlement pipeline to US.

Refugees watching the US election results by CNN at Unity Hotel, Ethiopian Community, Kakuma 1/ By Tolossa Asrat – KANERE

The arrival of Trump also slashed support for humanitarian operations. This affected the aid agencies and advocacy groups working for refugees and asylum seekers in Kakuma. These effects have left a huge burden for vulnerable refugees and asylum seekers, many of whom are dependent on relief food and other forms of support.

“For the past four years, Kakuma has truly been affected by the announcement as Trump being a leader” says Aziza, a refugee in Kakuma.

In the nearly four years since January 20, 2017 (the day Trump took office), only 3000 refugees have been resettled from Kenya. This contrasts with over 6000 refugees resettled in 2016 alone, as per UNHCR monthly operational statistics of August 2020.

Balu, a refugee writer from South Sudan expressed his hope. “USA has been the heart of refugees’ hope, having Biden as President. A good number of refuges will probably see the USA.”

Since Trump’s inauguration, most organizations in the camp were forced to trim their operations, while others have been forced to work with very few personnel. Many incentive staffs have been laid off.

“I had been working as a child protection staff at Lutheran World Federation /LWF/, Kakuma office until 2019 December. I was terminated due to budget cut.” Gazu, an Ethiopian refugee told KANERE.

During his election campaign, Biden has said he will raise the refugee resettlement top limit to 125,000 during his first year in office and will roll back Trump administrations refugee polices. However, some refugees are not optimistic due to the fact that Trump administrations changed a lot of polices concerning refugees and asylum and this might take a lot of time and resources to undo the polices made by Trump.

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