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.


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


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.

Transportation Inside Kakuma.

Credit Balu Makwatch

Motorcycle is the main means of transportation within Kakuma & the new settlement .

Photography,Video Content production & Freelancing service in Kakuma Refugee camp ,Kenya

Visit https://kakumafreelancers.wordpress.com/

Covid-19 Myths in Kakuma

March 2020

Covid-19 has not yet reached Kakuma camp, but misinformation is spreading rapidly.

Given the lack of medical infrastructure in Kakuma, it is important that the community does its best to follow public health recommendations that can prevent the spread of the virus. However, misinformation leads people to undertake ineffective strategies, which can be a major waste of energy and resources. Moreover, misinformation may discourage them from following the official guidance of qualified health experts. Worse yet, rumors about how the disease is spread can cause stigmatization and even violence against certain groups.

Myths regarding Covid-19 and awareness intervention from WHO

Much misinformation is spread through the WhatsApp platform. Someone receives a message about Covid-19, and they immediately forward it to all of their groups. They often do this with good intentions, as they believe that they are helping their friends to prepare. But in actuality they are misinforming them.

To draw attention to the spread of misinformation, KANERE reached out to different part of the camp, as well as the Kalobeyei Settlement to find out what misinformation is spreading about COVID -19. Some common misconceptions are listed below:

MYTH #1: Tea Leaf without Sugar Can Prevent the Virus

“A child was allegedly born in Sudan. He told people to drink tea leaf, and that the virus will not attack whoever does so. The child died immediately after speaking this message.” – Group 13 resident

MYTH #2: Covid-19 is God’s Punishment of Rich White People

“This thing is only for rich people and white people. It will not affect black people like me and you. The reports you are hearing now from African governments are fake. They are just trying to get funds. The virus is a punishment from God for those who commit bad things like being gay and stuff.” – Kakuma One

MYTH #3: Hair Inside the Bible

“If you go inside the bible and look, you will find a strand of hair. You are supposed to boil it and drink it, as it is a cure from God. And then tosha! No virus, no bacteria.” New Canada Resident.

MYTH #4: Only Christians are Infected

“Muslims shouldn’t worry about this virus, because it is only affecting Christians. I heard this from a regional MP in my home country. He advised us to read one of the chapters if the Qur’an, seventeen times, early in the morning.” Kakuma Three Resident

KANERE calls for all refugees to read social media messages carefully, avoid spreading misinformation and to follow the instructions from UNHCR and IRC.

Here is UNHCR link to get updates regarding COVID-19.

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