Follow the money – that is often a useful way of gaining better understanding. Earlier this month, the government announced – again – that it would close the Dadaab group of camps near the Somali border that holds more than half a million people. I agree that Dadaab should be closed. It should have been closed a long time ago. A refugee camp is an interim solution. But Somalia’s conflict is not an interim situation – it has lasted for more than two decades now. It’s awful to keep people locked up without any real perspective for years and, in some cases, literally generations.
So why now? The Kenyan government said that Dadaab was also a refuge for al Shabaab terrorist who used the camp to plot attacks in Kenya, and that it had cost the Kenyan state way too much over the years. As a sign that it means business, Kenya’s Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) has now been shut down which creates all sorts of complications for both new and existing refugees. The extent of the security challenge in Dadaab has been disputed by many people. And Kenya certainly has so many other, self inflicted security challenges, for example, the reported collaboration between the army and al Shabaab in the charcoal trade – that you wonder why suddenly focus on the camp.
The money issue: yes, the DRA cost the Kenyan state, that is true – although probably not Sh1 billion (US$100 million) as claimed by Foreign Minister Amina Mohamed. It was allocated Sh111 billion in the last budget. But much of the camp management itself is not paid for by Kenya – it is international donors that keep it up and running, with nearly US$1.5 billion for the past five years. Still, there is the money factor. As the Economist writes: “Having seen Turkey secure promises of €6 billion of aid in return for taking migrants back from Greece, Kenya doubtless wants more from the West.” And Jina Moore writes for Buzzfeed that Niger has offered a EU delegation to ‘help curb the problem’ of migrants passing through Niger to Libya to reach Italy – for around US$1.1 billion. The EU governments’ efforts to basically pay non-EU governments to warehouse refugees to keep them out is shameful enough. But interesting prospects for a slightly cash strapped government, no? Just business, a bit of hustling, to generate a bit of money from the people who are stuck in a desert camp rather than let them become economically productive, integrated citizens?