“Worry Over the World’s Biggest Refugee Camp”
The Washington Post, April 29, 2015, p.A12
“The Kenyan government is threatening to dismantle the world’s largest refugee camp, setting off a panic among the nearly 350,000 people who live here and the international aid organizations that care for them. Kenyan officials say the camp is a national security threat, a constellation of tents and huts used by the Somali extremist group al-Shabab to plan attacks, like the one on Garissa University College that killed 148 people last month. Nearly 25 years after it was constructed as a temporary solution for families fleeing Somalia’s civil war, the Dadaab refugee complex (actually made up of multiple camps) is now a sprawling city. Dispelling its occupants would not only be a logistical nightmare, aid officials say, but also a humanitarian disaster. … In North Africa, thousands of African migrants and asylum-seekers board shoddy boats to flee to Europe, many of them dying en route. But Dadaab appears to be a symbol of a different kind of refugee crisis — an aging support system for those fleeing conflict and famine, in which resources are stretched thin even as tension with host countries mounts. UNHCR’s funding needs have grown by 130 percent since 2009, but its budget has increased by only 70 percent, according to a forthcoming report from the Washington-based Migration Policy Institute. Signs of the shortfall in aid are evident in Dadaab, where childhood malnutrition hovers at around 10 percent. Although the camp was constructed as a temporary facility for people fleeing Somalia’s civil war, that conflict never ended. Instead, it evolved with the emergence of Islamist groups and eventually al-Shabab, which is linked to al-Qaeda. More refugees poured into Dadaab when Somalia faced a famine in 2011. … As Dadaab has grown, so have the security problems it poses. Al-Shabab militants have been able to slip into the camp, according to Kenyan officials, hiding weapons and recruiting young fighters. After Kenya sent troops into Somalia in 2011 to fight the extremists, a string of retaliatory bomb attacks targeted police trucks in the camp and six foreign aid workers were kidnapped.”
Quickie analysis: Is the camp a security risk? Probably. Would closing it make the problem worse? Almost certainly.