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Yet, to be honest, life for women in Somali refugee camps is just as harsh, if not more so, as life in a Kenyan refugee camp. For example, over a period of six months in 2010, the Somali refugee camp at Galkayo alone documented over 400 cases of rape.
Still, the Kenyan government has an established history of being unwelcoming to Somali refugees, and to women in particular. A 2010 Human Rights Watch (HRW) report documented that nearly 80 percent of Somali women and girls face “rape, whippings, beatings, detention, extortion, and summary deportation” at the hands of Kenyan police.
According to Gerry Simpson of HRW, “Once in the camps, some refugees face more police violence and the police turn a blind eye to sexual violence by other refugees and local Kenyans.”
Moreover, despite recently receiving $21 billion from the European Union to address the challenge of housing the large influx of Somali refugees, the Kenyan government hasn’t helped to alleviate the miserable conditions in its own camps.
Specifically, Kenya, aided with $16 million in donations from the United States and the European Union, recently built a new refugee camp near Dadaab designed to hold 40,000 people. However, the If2 refugee camp stands unused, as the Kenyan government has refused to allow it to be open for business for fear the new accommodations will only serve to entice more Somalis to come to Kenya, making it harder to get them to return home.
Yet, for many Somalis, Kenya is indeed considered home, a fact Kenyan officials are quick to point out. They say the camp sites at Dadaab were originally built in 1991 to house Somalis fleeing the onset of Somalia’s civil war, but nearly twenty years of continuous warfare have turned many of the camps’ occupants into semi-permanent residents.
So, in an attempt to rid itself of its burgeoning Somali refugee problem, Kenya is now hoping to move them back from whence they first came. To that end, Kenya’s Minister of Internal Security, Francis Kimemia, has argued that the construction of any new refugee camps be completed within Somalia.
Kimemia has asked the African Union Mission in Somalia (AMISOM) to establish a safe zone near the Kenyan border with Somalia for the provision of relief supplies, arguing, “Instead of urging us to extend camps within Kenya, isn’t it possible to start camps inside Somalia just close to the border… and Somalis can be settled there?”
To Kenyan authorities, the reasoning behind moving Somalis out of Kenya has little to do with any perceived lack of humanitarian feeling, but more to do with Kenya’s national security and the risk posed by large masses of displaced Somalis.
In particular, the government fears al-Shabab will infiltrate the refugee camps and wreak havoc, a view underscored by a recent UN report that cites al-Shabab’s extensive funding, recruiting and training networks in Kenya. As Kenya’s interior minister, Orwa Ojode, has said of an al-Shabab presence in Kenya, “We are not ready to have that kind of insecurity…That is our biggest fear.”
Tragically, for Somalia’s increasingly desperate and abused women and girls, insecurity and fear remain constant, unending afflictions.
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