25 April 2019

Kenya: How Trump's Immigration Policy Has Blocked Exodus From Dadaab

Photo: William Oeri/Nation
Somali refugees being ferried to Dadaab from Liboi as Kenyan troops gear up for a major offensive against Al Shabaab militants at Afmadow (file photo).

The Trump administration's refusal to admit Somali immigrants to the United States is hindering efforts to reduce the population of the Dadaab refugee camps, which the Kenyan government reportedly seeks to close.

Refugees from Somalia account for more than 95 percent of the 210,556 individuals who were living in the Dadaab complex at the end of March, the United Nations refugee agency said on Wednesday.

POPULATION

Dadaab's total population has increased by about 500 since late February and by 9000 since September 2018.

Those trends -- which are moving in a direction opposite of what the Kenyan government favours -- partly reflect the reluctance or outright unwillingness of many developed countries to admit Somali refugees.

"Resettlement in Dadaab remains a durable solution available for a very limited number of refugees due to the extremely limited number of countries showing interest in Somali refugee population," the UN agency said on Wednesday.

It noted that US immigration officials recently rejected all 56 of the Somali cases in Dadaab that had been proposed for resettlement in the US. By contrast, the UN agency added, Sweden approved all but two of the 29 Somali Dadaab cases it had been forwarded for review.

President Trump has barred persons from seven countries -- six of them with Muslim majorities -- from entering the US. Mr Trump has also lowered to 30,000 the total number of refugees from all countries who will be admitted to the US this year. For 2016, then-President Obama had set a ceiling of 110,000 refugees.

Had the Trump policy been in effect in 1992, the US would likely not have allowed now-Congresswoman Ilhan Omar to enter the country. Ms Omar was born in Somalia in 1981 and fled with her family in 1988 to what later became the Dadaab complex. She and some family members were admitted to the US as refugees four years after settling in Kenya.

The number of persons with Somali ancestry living in the US stood at about 85,700 in 2010, according to a US Census survey. A large majority of them -- 76,205 -- were born in Somalia.

The inability of most refugees in Dadaab to gain resettlement in other countries may be linked to a sharp rise in cases of psychological depression in the camps. Reuters reported a year ago that the number of Dadaab residents diagnosed with depression had almost doubled from 2016 to 2017.

Suicides in the Kakuma refugee camp, which houses mostly South Sudanese, rose from three in 2016 to nine in 2017, Reuters noted, citing statistics compiled by the International Rescue Committee, a US non-governmental organisation.

REPATRIATION PLAN

A UN initiative to encourage voluntary returns to Somalia from Dadaab is also faltering.

A total of 83,248 Somalis have been assisted in returning to their homeland from Kenya since the voluntary repatriation programme was launched in 2014, the UN refugee agency said. Only 323 have been helped in returning to Somalia so far this year, the UN added.

Nearly 2900 individuals have made their way back to Dadaab after being voluntarily repatriated to Somalia, the refugee agency noted.

The Kenyan government told the UN in February that it wanted to close Dadaab by this August, according to an internal UN document leaked to the French Press Agency.

Kenyan officials had asked the UN refugee agency, which runs the Dadaab complex, to "expedite relocation of the refugees and asylum-seekers residing therein."

The government had also warned in 2016 that it was planning to close Dadaab due to national security concerns. That threat was lifted, however, when the Kenyan High Court ruled that shutting down Dadaab would violate both national and international law.

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