By Takawira Kapikinyu
In Africa there is a shared belief that we are all brothers and sisters and that the borders and boundaries are a creation of the colonialists therefore they should not separate us. Pursuant to this is the notion that all refugees from a neighboring country are welcome and we should be hospitable to them until such a time it is safe for them to return home. In-fact we say “my home is your home feel free”. There is also what is called Ubuntu, the respect for other people and treating them in a humane way because they are just like us. This week my heart was shattered when the Kenyan government decided against this African moral code and ordered all refugees into refugee camps. This is known as Encampment Policy. This directive is not new, it has been given before by the previous government, only to be set aside by the High Court. The Kenyan government’s main concern are not all refugees, but the Somalis.
While I was in Kenya for over six months I spoke to Kenyans about the Somali refugee situation and most felt it was high time they go back to their country as Kenya had liberated some areas in South Central Somalia from Al Shabaab control. I preferred to argue that we ought to understand that refugees also want to go back home but when there is insecurity and we know they may die before they even reach their homes, why not let them stay? The Westgate mall attack and the signing of the Tripartite Agreement further consolidated Kenya’s call for the Somalis to leave the country. The media joined in and has been using every opportunity to quote the government officials who wish to see the Somalis return home. Most Kenyans are angry and the government would want to be seen as doing something to address people’s anger.
While most human rights and advocacy groups are quick to point out that Kenya has legal obligations under International Humanitarian Law, Geneva Conventions and use other legal jargon, I prefer to call on Kenya to uphold the African moral code of conduct. This has been the basis for which they have accepted these refugees hence they should not hold the majority of these hardworking resilient people who have survived for over two decades without setting foot in their homeland to be responsible for the Al Shabaab attacks. We all know that stability in many African countries is not guaranteed. There are countries that were said to be beacons of stability but are today the largest refugee sending countries. Kenya should take note of that in this instance.
It will not be easy for UNHCR and other humanitarian organizations to look after these refugees who had been independent as funding for Kenyan camps always falls short of requirements. There is hardly enough food to feed refugees. Shelter is lacking and the Kenyan government won’t allow the building of permanent shelter in the camps. It will also be traumatizing for these refugees to be idle, school going children will not be in school, young girls will be forced into early marriages, women face the biggest threat of insecurity in the camps. It is much cheaper for refugees to live outside camps as they also contribute towards their own sustenance.
I am afraid that if the international community stands aside and let Kenya go on with enforcing the encampment policy, they will ultimately force the Somalis to return home. This is the ultimate goal though we all know it is not safe to return to Somalia. Refugees should be given the choice to reside in urban areas if they are able to support themselves. Refugees must also not be forced to return home when it is not safe to do so. What happened to the oneness of Africans?
Takah is a humanitarian aid professional focusing on emergency and post conflict response. He has worked for various organizations dedicated to humanitarian aid in Africa and around the world. His main focus is refugees, displaced people and gender issues. His passion is to help Africa realize a better peaceful and equitable path to development. He is a holder of Sociology and a Masters in Rural and Urban Planning degrees from the University of Zimbabwe, and is finishing his second Masters in Sustainable International Development at Brandeis University’s Heller School (USA). He enjoys traveling and is a self-taught photographer.