The Nation (Nairobi)

Kenya: Time to Shut Down Dadaab Refugee Camp

opinion

Many of Dadaab's nearly 500,000 residents have known no other life, having been born or raised in the camp about 60 miles south of the Somali border.

Most residents are Somalis, chased to Dadaab by either drought or terrorism.

The world thinks Dadaab should go on indefinitely, and it has for almost two decades. That mindset must change.

Somalia's president was in London this week, talking about Somalia as though it were a destination.

He spoke about how the standard of living is higher than in some other East African nations and how Mogadishu is again peaceful.

The truth of the matter is that there's only one reason for these words: The brave soldiers in the African Union, which will be adding almost 5,000 combatants in coming months.

Their job is large: routing Al-Shabaab, arresting the sea pirates who continue to attack at will and restoring peace to the rest of the country outside of Mogadishu.

To the victors go the spoils of war: That must mean a return of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Ethiopia and Kenya, and the restoration of the sea lanes that are among the world's most valuable.

The closure of Dadaab should not occur overnight. It should be an orderly process that occurs with the oversight of the United Nations.

But the planning should begin now and so should the announcement.

The goal should be to have the settlement cleared out in two years. Repatriations activities, including jobs, food and water, ought to be used to attract Somalis back to their homes.

The financing of such an activity can't be done from the coffers of sub-Saharan Africa. It must be an action of the world.

Kenya stands as a beacon of freedom and decency in Africa. Yet, it is burdened by Somalia in the north, a potential war in Sudan and the troubles that seem to regularly beset northern Uganda.

Because of its proximity and stability, Kenya hosts the refugees from all of these places. I have seen the displaced in places like Kisumu and Eldoret. These camps do not look like the neat tent cities in Dadaab.

Instead, they make one feel as though he's witnessing the world after an atomic bomb. Fires burn throughout, and people live in metal shacks and children wander naked.

When Americans and Europeans debate their immigrant issues, they have no idea what is facing Kenya on an everyday basis. But out or sight, as they say, is out of mind.

Kenyans have paid a Somali tax for the last two decades. President Kibaki needs to announce the closure of Dadaab to the world.

Someone must tell the West that this can't go on forever.

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