Same old prob­lems for Kenya’s new­est refugee set­tle­ment

Camp is fail­ing to re­alise its aim of ac­com­mo­dat­ing refugees who could be­come self-re­liant

African Independent - - NEWS - CHAR­LIE ENSOR

KALOBEYEI was sup­posed to be dif­fer­ent. Refugees there would be sel­f­re­liant. They would be in­te­grated with the com­mu­nity in a mu­tu­ally ben­e­fi­cial ar­range­ment of shared ser­vices and bustling mar­kets. And it would all cost a lot less for West­ern aid donors. But it hasn’t worked. Kalobeyei, in Kenya’s re­mote north-west, was built to de­con­gest nearby Kakuma camp and at­tract the more en­tre­pre­neur­ial-minded refugees who could take ad­van­tage of the tiny plots of land on of­fer and trade with the com­mu­nity.

The World Food Pro­gramme pro­vides a $14 monthly cash al­lowance to each refugee, which it says is enough to cover 80% of min­i­mum needs. The 40 000 refugees are ex­pected to sup­ple­ment that stipend.

The prob­lem is that Kalobeyei was es­tab­lished just as South Su­dan’s civil war in­ten­si­fied. With Kakuma full, peo­ple have been ar­riv­ing in Kalobeyei with lit­tle more than the clothes on their backs – and with­out the re­sources to make a go of it.

Jean-Marie Shamal­ima, who fled Bu­rundi’s civil war last year, is the kind of refugee Kalobeyei was de­signed to ac­com­mo­date.

Be­side his shack of tar­pau­lin and cor­ru­gated iron are rows of okra, beans, and spinach grow­ing in a small sunken bed.

It’s an in­con­gru­ous sight in the mid­dle of the arid Turkana re­gion. He ar­rived when the set­tle­ment opened, and his seeds were among the few pos­ses­sions he brought with him.

Kalobeyei, built by the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, in con­junc­tion with the Turkana county government, is an “in­te­grated set­tle­ment”. That means it aims to pro­vide eco­nomic ben­e­fits and ser­vices to host and refugee com­mu­ni­ties alike, in­clud­ing schools, hos­pi­tals, and mar­ket­places where Shamal­ima can sell his pro­duce.

“It was dif­fi­cult when we first ar­rived. There wasn’t a lot of wa­ter avail­able. But now things are im­prov­ing and I’m grow­ing lots of dif­fer­ent veg­eta­bles,” Shamal­ima said, ges­tur­ing proudly to his fiveby-six-me­tre plot.

“I sell my spinach and okra in the mar­ket place. It pro­vides me with an extra in­come so that I can buy clothes and seeds to grow more crops to sell.”

For other refugees it’s harder. A 20kg bag of maize flour – enough to last a fam­ily of five for a month – costs around $9 and a litre of oil $2.50. Then there’s all the other in­gre­di­ents that go into a meal, plus the char­coal to cook the food.

“I buy maize, beans, onions and oil with the money I get and it’s barely enough for us to eat,” South Su­danese refugee Mary Naduru, a mother of four, said.

Kalobeyei is a new model for Kenya. It is an ac­knowl­edge­ment that Kakuma, and the larger Dadaab camp in the north­east, are out­moded. They are in ef­fect refugee is­lands suck­ing up dwin­dling donor aid.

Kalobeyei of­fers a part-so­lu­tion in a coun­try where the pol­i­tics of asy­lum is highly charged.

“The aim is to make Kalobeyei a self-serv­ing, self-re­liant set­tle­ment,” Neville Agoro of the Dan­ish Refugee Coun­cil said. “The idea wasn’t to make peo­ple rely on hu­man­i­tar­ian agen­cies.”

But there is a large wrin­kle. “So long as we keep on bring­ing peo­ple who’ve just ar­rived from South Su­dan, bring­ing them to Kalobeyei and try­ing to (in­tro­duce) sel­f­re­liance is not pos­si­ble,” he added.

New ar­rivals get a patch of ground to grow food on, and that’s it – no seeds and tools or train­ing.

“They just tell us ‘this is your house, this is your gar­den’, and then just leave us to get on with it,” said Mary Naduru, who fled South Su­dan two months ago.

“I would like to plant veg­eta­bles, but I don’t have the money or the re­sources to buy seeds or tools,” said Mary Tioko, from drought-hit north­ern Uganda.

With no source of in­come other than WFP’s monthly cash trans­fer, Tioko of­ten goes hun­gry, count­ing the days un­til the month is over.

And that’s not all. Turkana is dry, in­hos­pitable land. Ad­di­tional bore­holes drilled to cope with the set­tle­ment’s ex­pand­ing pop­u­la­tion have failed, com­ing up with saline wa­ter un­fit for hu­man con­sump­tion.

“Some­times there’s no wa­ter to ir­ri­gate the gar­den. With­out wa­ter, the beans don’t grow very well in th­ese harsh con­di­tions,” said Ernest Nakiru, a South Su­danese refugee.

Land al­lo­cated to build the set­tle­ment was agreed by the county government, com­mu­nity com­mit­tee groups, and UNHCR, but is be­com­ing a sore point be­tween the Turkana com­mu­nity and new refugee ar­rivals.

To make a suc­cess of Kalobeyei, the refugees – Shamal­ima in­cluded – need more land, oth­er­wise it’s just hand to mouth.

“I pray that I’m given more land so that I can grow more crops but the land isn’t big enough,” he said.

The pol­i­tics of land dis­tri­bu­tion in Kenya is a con­tentious is­sue, so it’s un­likely that politi­cians will al­low refugees to own land out­side des­ig­nated ar­eas like Kalobeyei.

The pas­toral­ist Turkana have been his­tor­i­cally marginalised, their re­gion un­der­de­vel­oped by suc­ces­sive gov­ern­ments in dis­tant Nairobi.

The Kalobeyei set­tle­ment has gen­er­ated large ex­pec­ta­tions within the com­mu­nity, who have seen their pas­tures and earn­ings shrink as a re­sult of er­ratic rains.

“The project was sup­posed to be on a 50:50 ba­sis,” said Rukia Lotinga, a vil­lage el­der in­volved in the com­mu­nity ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“The agree­ments were that any­thing the refugees got, the host com­mu­nity would have to ben­e­fit in the same, equal man­ner.”

That, she said, “is why we gave away our graz­ing land to the UN.”

But the prom­ise had not been hon­oured, she said.

“What’s been de­liv­ered is not enough. Refugees are get­ting de­vel­op­ment, but the host com­mu­nity hasn’t seen much.”

It’s a pow­er­ful per­cep­tion of in­jus­tice, built over the years by au­thor­i­ties’ ne­glect.

Though Turkana trade fire­wood, char­coal and an­i­mals with the refugees, they worry about the long-term impact on the re­sources­tretched environment.

“We won’t stop cut­ting the trees be­cause we need (money) to sus­tain our liveli­hoods,” said Lotinga. “If the for­est dies, so do our live­stock, and we’ll be fin­ished our­selves un­less we see sup­port from aid agen­cies.”

De­spite her con­cerns, Lotinga said that ul­ti­mately the Kalobeyei project could ben­e­fit both com­mu­ni­ties.

“We still want to ben­e­fit from hav­ing refugees around – that’s not the is­sue. If refugees were to leave Turkana, our peo­ple would re­ally suf­fer.” – IRIN News

PIC­TURES: CHAR­LIE ENSOR/IRIN

MU­TUAL BEN­E­FIT: The plan was for Kalobeyei to pro­vide eco­nomic ben­e­fits and ser­vices to host and refugee com­mu­ni­ties.

IDLE: Peo­ple in the refugee camps pass the time as best as they can.

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