Children’s Voices from Dadaab

If you think “refugee crisis”, you think Europe. Now … think Africa! As per UNCHR end’15 data, the world’s largest refugee camp is located in Eastern Kenya.

Dadaab.

It was the site hosting more than 300,000 refugees, most of them fleeing from the Somalia civil war. “It was”, because few years back Kenya and Somalia governments signed an agreement for the repatriation of the Somali refugees back home. Earlier this year the Kenya government announced it’s decision to close the camp still this year. Repatriation is already happening. They call it safe, dignified, voluntary repatriation. Yet on the news you can build a more diverse and complex picture of it: risk of terrorism quoted, escalating insecurity, tripartite agreement, fragile situation in Somalia. As such, this is affecting the lives of hundreds of thousands, and as you can imagine, is not a black-and-white story of right and wrong.

In the epicenter of it all is the destiny of those 300,000 refugees. Each one of them. I can’t help myself but think – what if … I was one of them? What if … I was a Somali girl, woman, mother, a refugee, destined to go home, back to Somalia. Would I be happy? Sad? Scared? Confused? Determined? Hopeful?

Going home. But where is home? Few months back I watched a BBC news story, called “Inside the world’s biggest refugee camp” (do watch the video!) It featured a boy in his late 20s. He was talking about the hopes of his mum to return. He was talking about his own hopes and about his 27-year life. He was born in Dadaab. His wife was born in Dadaab. His first child was born in Dadaab. His second would be born there soon. All he knows is … Dadaab. His hopes? Are the hopes of millions – a good life for his family and his children. A better life. So does the repatriation give him hope for a better life? In Dadaab he was not allowed to move freely, he lived all his life within the artificial structure of a refugee camp, a country within the country. “We are just like a bird in a case,” he says. Yet, going back to Somalia, he would have to build a new life in a country, which is still insecure, in a country, which he doesn’t know.

58% of registered residents in Dadaab camps are children, so one could argue, children are the ones who are most affected by this repatriation. Because of the repatriation, children in Dadaab need to drop out of school. Schools are closing, classes are overflowing (some quoted classes of 60 to 100 children!), books are not enough, teachers are not enough. Children share fears that they will not be able to complete their certificates, that this will influence their education, and probably impact their future.

This is a video we  prepared for an educational project in Dadaab, under the compelling headline “Education Cannot Wait”. Listen to the voices of the children in Dadaab, how they experience repatriation…

There are children in Dadaab, who are orphans. Who  miss school, because they have no money for uniforms, for books, for pens, but also because of early marriages, child labor, and now because of … repatriation. With their Child Protection programs, Save the Children work in Dadaab to reach out to the most vulnerable children, to improve their access to child protection services. And as you can imagine, the impact of NGOs interventions is becoming even more relevant in this transition period, where children feel especially exposed and insecure. There’s more work to be done, and now, being part of Save the Children’s team, I feel particularly impressed by the determination of the team to do everything possible to help those kids.