KENYA, Dadaab: Hagadera and Ifo Camps , 1997

9 images Created 18 Oct 2016

I visited Dadaab in 1997. As we touched down on the dirt airstrip, two machine gun mounted jeeps drove along side us. We took an armed convoy to Hagadera Camp. The next day we took an even more heavily armed convoy for a short visit to Ifo Camp.

The Dadaab refugee camp complex in northern Kenya is one of the largest in the world. They were formed more than twenty five years ago and mainly house Somalis fleeing or forced out of that country’s civil war.

I was completely unprepared for daily life at a refugee camp. At the time, I was in Kenya working on a street photography project. I accepted an offer from a friend working with the Canadian Red Cross to visit Dadaab. I knew absolutely nothing about the situation.

My stay was short and memorable. It was my first introduction to Islam. I was startled to see a functioning society: schools; shops; local government. I listened to horrific stories about women being raped while searching for firewood outside the camp perimeter.

Seven years later I visited several internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in northern Uganda. If Dadaab was and is the high water mark for refugee camps, then the Uganda IDP camps were the worst of human settlements. The northern Uganda experience scarred me especially concerning IDP camps.

The Government of Kenya started relocating Somali refugees from Dadaab in November 2013 after the Westage Mall attack. They made a decision to close the camps after the Al-Shabaab attack on Garissa University in April 2015.

The camps were to close in 2015 then the date was expended to November 2016 and now I read the closure may be as late as December 2018.

The repatriation efforts are voluntary at this point. Those who agree to return to Somalia are given a free bus ride and US$400. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) reports from the period of 8 Dec 2014 to 30 Sep 2016 exactly 32,949 people have been voluntarily repatriated. Of that total, the agency reports 26,848 people left in 2016.

I am not certain what those people are returning to. My 1997 interviews suggested most of the refugees were fleeing because they were the wrong tribe. I was intrigued to discover many of the refugees I encountered were professionals and business owners. Not what I expected.

Further I understand many are arriving to IDP camps in Somalia.

Somalia today is second on “fragile states index”.
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