The situation of the Somali refugees

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The dire situation of the Somali refugees has raised much attention throughout the years. The vast number of people fleeing Somalia to the neighbouring countries such as Kenya, Ethiopia, Djibouti and Yemen has brought about a humanitarian crisis. This paper will address this issue by using the participatory rights-based approach. The focus is to move the structure from measuring the needs of the refugees to developing refugees' ability to recognise and claim their rights, and to instil the honouring of responsibilities in the obliged stakeholders (Nyamu-Musembi & Cornwall 2004).

Current Circumstances in Somalia and Root Causes

The last functioning central government collapsed in 1991. Civil war led to the state failure. In 2002, inter-clan violence erupted. In 2005, war crimes and human rights abuses that resulted from a rise in armed conflict by Ethiopian and Somali government forces against rebels forced about 1 million Mogadishu people to flee. That forced a huge migration of Somali refugees into Kenya. Violence continued between Islamist groups and the government despite Ethiopia's withdrawal in late 2008 (Human Rights Watch 2009a). Since then, 14 governments have failed and Somalia is down with anarchism.

Rising chaos and social instability in Somalia contributed to the historical and political origins of the flight. Chaos was created to elevate instability to overthrow the government and take over the power. The horrendous killing sprees, chopping off villagers' hands to prevent them from voting for the government, and snatching of boys to be recruited as child soldiers in their home country was depicted in the Hollywood film "Blood Diamonds". This relates to Somalia's situation.

People are fleeing civil war, persecution, violence, and starvation. These refugees signify the "human cost" of the escalating fall of Somalia. When the state has failed to protect her population, the "Responsibility2Protect" principle depicts that responsibility should shift to the international community, yet the fate of the refugees "attracts nothing like the global interest that surrounds Somali piracy and its threat to commerce" (Howden 2009). Evidently, commercial interest weighs more than humanitarian interest.

Impacts of Flight and Displacement

There would be significant emotional stress when people are forced to flee their home. Some carry hope of a better life outside their home country but many carry mixed sentiments as they do not have a clue on what awaits them over the boundary of their motherland. Many of them would also be inflicted with physical scarring from the torture and maiming that was done to them. Nevertheless, some flee in hope to reunite with some of their family members in the camps (Howden 2009).

The influx of refugees into Kenya raised political risks to Kenyan security (Africa monitor 2006), and hence, in January 2007, Kenya officially closed its "doors" to Somalia. The closure did not prevent the refugees from trying to cross over. In fact, a few ten thousands of Somalis resorted to illegal networks and risked their lives to be smuggled across to Kenya. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) also had to close their refugee transit center. With the closure, the new refugees would not be able to get prompt registration. They will not be given health validations as well and will just be deported to the camps. This would lead to the lack of legal status which makes it difficult for refugees to find alternate means of income, rendering them vulnerable to trafficking, and especially women, being sex workers (US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, 2010). The closure also proliferated the extent of extortion from the Kenyan police towards the Somali refugees as they try to make their way to the camps. The refugees are on a flight to seek refuge and protection but are "welcomed" by extortion, possibilities of refoulement, and further abuses by the law enforcers.

Current Circumstances in Dadaab

The 3 camps in Dadaab - Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera were established in 1991 resulting from the massive arrivals of refugees from Somalia and other countries due to civil war outbreak, and were to accommodate 90,000 refugees. By August 2008, the land ran out and the camps were declared full by the U.N. That did not stop the desperate masses arriving (Howden, 2009). By 30 April 2009, Ifo was hosting 95,180 refugees, Hagadera had 93,642 while Dagahaley had 86,873 (Relief web 2009). The UNHCR planning figures for Kenya showed an estimated figure of 447, 400 refugees from Somalia by December 2011, which is a 10.8 percent jump from the estimated figure of 399, 070 by December 2010 (Figure 1 Annex A).

Healthcare issues such as overwhelmed sanitation facilities, chronic water shortages, starvation which is beyond food insecurity because food supplies were delayed due to surge in hijackings by the Somali pirates, and the refugees' rations were reduced by one-third, rampant diseases and outbreaks where cholera are rife (Howden 2009; Shultz et al 2009) plagued the camps. This is equivalent to a public health emergency (Human Rights Watch 2009a).

The range of protection risks faced by the refugees include abuse by Kenyan police, threat of arrest, refoulement which represents a grave infringement of the non-refoulement principle, harassment, exploitation, discrimination, overcrowded shelter described as "appalling crowded conditions in under serviced refugee camps" (Human Rights Watch, 2009a), inadequate shelter resulting in many make shift tents (Figure 2 Annex B) which are fire hazardous, "warehousing", extortion, detention, and violence (Human Rights Watch, 2009b).

In the Dadaab camps, violence was especially directed at women and children and could result in extensive psychological effects. Sexual and gender based violence (SGBV) concerning physical and psychological abuse of women is common. In 2005, 656 cases of SGBV were being reported in the three Dadaab camps. Many cases went unreported. These cases included "rape, defilement, forced wife inheritance, assault, domestic violence, sodomy, and early forced marriage" (Papadopoulos et al 2007, p. 17). As identified by Bartolomei (2009), forced marriage, which also intersects root causes such as wife inheritance, is a human right abuse in direct violation of Article 16 of The Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Impacts on Individuals and Communities

The camps are characterized by high levels of insecurity and violence, and refugee women undergo internal and external marginalization of their gender (Bartolomei et al 2003). Women at risks are often subjected to multiple oppressions, being constantly subjected to psychological and physical fear in a country where they are seeking asylum because of the lack of appropriate protection.

There is also "double jeopardy" for refugee women and girls when they have to travel out of the camp to collect firewood (Pittaway & Bartolomei 2006). The risk of being raped or sexually violated is heightened. Warehousing of refugees also puts women at greater risk because it can inhibit rape investigations. Moreover, women and girls who were raped and got pregnant may face two layers of discrimination - first by the local population; second by their own families. The psychological scarring on them would be triple-fold because on top of being ostracised by their own people, these atrocities are occurring at a place where they had come to seek refuge and protection, and law and justice is usually not served.

Survival sex in context of absolute desperation and lack of power is rape in another form (Bartolomei 2009). It is regarded as a different stage of rape where they are desperate for food for themselves and their families. Their body becomes a form of commodity.

High incidences of domestic violence occur in camps. People may increase drug use to cope with adversity and post-traumatic stress disorder (Bhui & Warfa 2010). Some of the male actually feels shameful for being unable to protect their wives and daughters from the rape (Bartolomei 2009). The men are mentally frustrated and struggling emotionally and there is probability that the men vent their frustrations through drug abuse or on the women and girls, where the former can lead to violence meted out on the latter.

Despite these gender-based oppressions, women are strong because they are challenging customary laws and practices relating to marriage, family and the role of women. They are not powerless victims of repressive and patriarchal cultures (Bartolomei 2009). They have knowledge of their rights, and are proactively engaging in organising around processes of claiming the rights (Nyamu-Musembi & Cornwall 2004).

The security of the local communities can be threatened. This is paradoxical because the refugees' security is also threatened by the locals. These tensions between refugees and locals implicate the address of the land crisis and negotiations for new land to develop additional camps. The Kenyan government would stall approval for new land citing the concerns of the locals. This was seen in the case of UNHCR's attempt in land leasing where they faced objections from two host societies because it was viewed that there was insufficient development benefits to the local communities for about twenty years of UN and NGO's presence there. In February 2009, a new limited area was granted in Fafi District but the local Kenyan community stated explicitly that any further agreements must include development benefits for local residents (Human Rights Watch, 2009b).

Finding Durable Protection Responses

The short term solutions can come in the form of legal, social, and medical help (Feller 2006). Security in camps can be enhanced through improved lighting and fencing. Education on importance of hand washing, food handling and water treatment with chlorine tablets can be carried out.

The medium term responses include investment in the assimilation of refugees into host communities (Kelley 2007). Local integration would require links between national development and refugees' development plans of government and donor countries and institutions into the aids programs (Feller 2006). Concept of shared responsibility is used to promote durable solutions.

Education can also empower people. Refugees have dignity and strength derived from entitlements, and the position to negotiate. Dignity is about self-provisioning (Nyamu-Musembi & Cornwall, 2004) and self-sufficiency can be acquired through education. Also, "ongoing education is required in order to challenge and change community attitudes which stigmatise women and girls who have survived rape and sexual violence" (Bartolomei 2009, p.46). Educating and training the staff involved with the refugees are essential as staff might mistaken the refugees' genuine complaints and needs as misrepresentations of psychological distress (Papadopoulos et al, 2007). Education is a medium term response that brings long term benefits.

Emphasis on participation is essential. If the affected communities are not actively participating in identifying rights violations and solutions then it is not a rights-based approach (Bartolomei 2009). As highlighted by Bartolomei (2009), there is frequent failure to actively involve refugee women in finding and implementing solutions. The key phrase to highlight is "actively involve". Being actively involved would mean more than just having their physical presence. It would mean their concerns and arguments are heard and represented by the women and girls at risks because it is often that their voices are repressed by the camp justice system whereby women are precluded by male leaders from decision making roles in most camp committees (Bartolomei, 2009).

For a durable long term solution, the root causes of the gaps in the regime of international protection ought to be resolved with a broader perspective if positive developments are to be advanced (Kelley 2007). Protection environment can be improved in time to come.

In recent years, there have also been quite a few developments in the international resettlement policy. As highlighted by Loescher and Milner (2006, p.10), resettlement functions "as a tool of protection for individual refugees, as a durable solution, and as a burden sharing responsibility". In addition, an improved situation would be for the resettlement countries, UNHCR and the host country to co-operate with an integrated approach, and resettle at least some of the entire refugee population in a manner whereby protection is enhanced further and livelihood of those refugees not resettled is guaranteed (Loescher & Milner 2006).

One constraint is confusing refugees with ordinary migrants and this is a misconception that will undermine the protection they are entitled to (Feller 2006).

Another issue is the need to get the peace and security parties more involved in addressing the conflict or violations of human rights in the country where the refugees originated. In addition, the host countries are often not fulfilling their obligations and commitments. States should commit themselves to establishing an asylum system which responsibly identifies who is a refugee, who is the one in need of protection, and for those deemed not to be given protection, they are to be rejected and sent home safely and in a dignified way (Feller 2001).

While the art of UNHRC is not to allow solution or assistance have priority over protection (Goodwin-Gill 2008), the difficulty is in providing effective protection.


The chronic and seemingly unending refugee situations are not prominent on the international political agenda. This issue can be approached in more incorporated manner as well as holistically and effectively with more address given to the policy and advocacy aspects. It becomes necessary to understand and recognise that the refugee population is one with rights to protection and not based on charities. These people have the rights to get involved and gain information in relation to the decision-making processes which will influence their lives (Nyamu-Musembi and Cornwall 2004).