Kenya to close world's largest refugee camp due to terrorism

The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya began as a temporary shelter for 90,000 Somalis displaced by the civil war 25 years ago.  Since then, it has grown into a regional business hub of 350,000 refugees, featuring markets, movie theaters, and an elected council.

But it has also become fertile recruiting for al-Shabaab terrorists the Somali-based jihadists who have carried out several shockingly brutal attacks in Kenya.

To stop the attacks, the Kenyan government feels it has no choice but to close the sprawling camp and send the 350,000 residents back to Somalia.

But there are going to be unintended consequences to shuttering what is now the third largest city in Kenya.

Washington Times:

Halima Gure, 40, who owns a clothing shop at Hagadera market, one of the biggest in Dadaab, said the region will lack services if the refugees are repatriated.

“Most locals in this northern region come here to buy clothes and food in bulk,” said Ms. Gure, a mother of 10, who arrived at the camp in 2012 after al-Shabab militants overran her native Gedo region in Somalia. “The market is an economic hub for residents here, and it’s run mostly by refugees. When we leave there will be no business here.”

Many in the region complain that the government believes only Somalis — the majority of the refugees in the camp — would be affected by the closure. They say that fails to take into account that over the more than two decades of the camp’s existence, intermarriage between Kenyans and the refugees has become normal, which has in turn promoted the growth of the camp, said Nazlin Umar Fazaldin Rajput, a political analyst and chair of National Muslim Council ofKenya.

“Refugees have intermarried with Kenyans and created families; the offspring of these unions are citizens of all social classes,” she said. “In the northeastern region, joint business ventures have been established by the refugees and locals,” warning of “the negative impact that will descend upon our weakening economy” if the refugees are sent home.

Somalian Prime Minister Omar Abdirashid Ali Sharmarke said the refugees have been unfairly blamed for terror incidents such as the Garissa university massacre inside Kenya, but said his first priority now is to make sure the shutdown is orderly.

“We want our refugees back, definitely,” he said in an interview on last week. “But you have to calibrate the way they are coming back. You can’t just throw them back with nothing.”

The aftershocks may be felt even beyond the region, some say.

There are more than 100 schools in the camp, with trained teachers and an education system that is far better than what is available in Somalia, say refugees, as are the employment opportunities after graduation.

Al-Shabaab is a particularlly violent and remorseless terrorist group, so the Kenyan government's desire to close down the camp makes sense.  But the reality of putting 350,000 people on the move is daunting.  Plus the refugees are returning to a violent, chaotic homeland with no guarantee that they will be safe in their homes.  Many of the refugees might keep moving on to other, crowded refugee camps, worsening the problem across the region. 

The U.N. now says there are more displaced persons than there were after World War II.  More than 65 million people are on the move, fleeing war, poverty, pestilence, and violence.  What they are really fleeing is bad government, which makes this tragedy preventable.  Until the world begins to take collective action, those 65 million people will be looking to enter the paradise of rich Western democracies, turning societies upside-down and endangering everybody.