Dabaab a region in East-Africa plays host to the largest convergence of refugees in the world. The largest Refugee camp is on the spotlight in this article.
Dadaab is a semi-arid town in Garissa County, Kenya. It is the site of a large UNHCR base hosting 350,000 people in five camps as of May 2015. In 2013, the governments of Kenya and Somalia signed a tripartite agreement facilitating the repatriation of refugees at the complex. Dadaab is located approximately 100 kilometres (60 miles) from the Kenya-Somalia border.
Until recently, the local population traditionally consisted of nomadic Somali camel and goat herders. The nearest major town is Garissa, which is the headquarters of the North Eastern Province.
Dadaab hosts people that have fled various conflicts in the larger Eastern Africa region. Most have come as a consequence of the civil war in southern Somalia, including both Somalis and members of Somalia’s various ethnic minority groups such as the Bantu. Most of the latter have migrated from the southern Jubba Valley and the Gedo region, while the remainder have arrived from Kismayo, Mogadishu and Bardera.
The Dadaab camps (Ifo, Dagahaley, Hagadera) were constructed in the early 1990s. Ifo camp was first settled by refugees from the civil war in Somalia, and later efforts were made by UNHCR to improve the camp. As the population expanded, UNHCR contacted German architect Werner Shellenberg who drew the original design for Dagahaley Camp and Swedish architect Per Iwansson who designed and initiated the creation of Hagadera camp. For many years the camps were managed by CARE, and later environmental and waste management issues were overseen by GTZ.
In 2011, the drought in East Africa caused a dramatic surge in the camps’ population. In July 2011, it was reported that more than 1000 people per day were arriving in dire need of assistance. The influx reportedly placed great strain on the base’s resources, as the capacity of the camps was about 90,000 whereas the camps hosted 439,000 refugees in July of 2011 according to the UNHCR. The number was predicted to increase to 500,000 by the end of 2011 according to estimates from Médecins Sans Frontières. Those population figures ranked Dadaab as the largest refugee camp in the world.
According to the Lutheran World Federation, military operations in the conflict zones of southern Somalia and a scaling up of relief operations had by early December 2011 greatly reduced the movement of migrants into Dadaab.
Rainfall had also surpassed expectations and rivers were flowing again, improving the prospects of a good harvest in early 2012
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By February 2012, aid agencies had shifted their emphasis to recovery efforts, including digging irrigation canals and distributing plant seeds. Long-term strategies by national governments in conjunction with development agencies are believed to offer the most sustainable results. In November 2013, the Foreign Ministries of Somalia and Kenya and the UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement in Mogadishu paving the way for the voluntary repatriation of Somalian nationals living in Dadaab. Both governments also agreed to form a repatriation commission to coordinate the return of the refugees.
By February 2014, around 80,000 to 100,000 residents had voluntarily repatriated to Somalia, significantly decreasing the base’s population. According to the UNHCR, the center hosted 350,000 people as of mid-2015. 80% of residents were women and children and 95% were Somalian nationals. Over 2,000 of the individuals had returned to the Luuq, Baidoa and Kismayo districts in southern Somalia under the repatriation project. However, the majority of the returnees had instead repatriated independently.
Following the Garissa University College attack in April 2015, which had resulted in 147 deaths, the Kenyan government asked the UNHCR to repatriate the remaining refugees to a designated area in Somalia within three months. The Federal Government of Somalia and UNHCR later confirmed that the repatriation would continue to be voluntary in accordance with the tripartite agreement, and that eight districts in Somalia from where most of the individuals had come had officially been designated as safe for repatriation. The three-month ultimatum passed without Dadaab being closed; on 5 August 2015, the first group of 116 persons voluntarily returned to Somalia
Refugees living at the camp face numerous threats to their health, including diarrhea, pulmonary issues, and fever. Malnutrition is also a constant problem, and between June and October of 2011 an outbreak of measles caused many deaths.
Also, deforestation has an effect on the lives of Dadaab’s residents. Despite typically being required to remain in the camp, residents often have to venture out in search of firewood and water. This leaves women and girls vulnerable to violence as they journey to and from the camp.
In 2006, flooding severely affected the region. More than 2,000 homes in the Ifo refugee camp were destroyed, forcing the relocation of more than 10,000 refugees. The sole access road to the camp and to the town was also cut off by the floods, effectively cutting off the town and refugee camps from essential supplies. Humanitarian agencies present in the area worked together to bring vital goods to the area. This effort resulted in the creation of the Ifo 2 camp extension in 2007 by the Norwegian Refugee Council. However, legal problems with the Kenyan Government prevented Ifo 2 from fully opening for resettlement until 2011.
In 2011, the drought in East Africa caused a dramatic surge in the camps’ population.
Dadaab remains the world’s biggest camp till date