Home to around 550,000 refugees in 2015, Kenya is experiencing a refugee crisis that has received very little international attention, and continues to display no sign of improvement. Sufferers of drought, famine and political oppression from the nations of Somalia, Ethiopia and South Sudan flee to Kenya so that they may find salvation and seek asylum. They dream of a haven in which they are no longer persecuted by a corrupt government, nor starved by poor harvest. Statistics hale that more than 85,000 households in Somalia alone have fled to Kenya in search of protection (UNHCR), evidently depicting the unease felt by refugees in their home countries.
In 2016, the Kenyan government proposed a widescale shut down of its refugee camps. The proposition included a shutdown of Dadaab, which is the largest by population in Kenya and houses approximately 270,000 refugees as of 2017 (UNHCR). This proposition was influenced by the economic issues the Kenyan government faced in keeping the camps open, as well as the security concerns instigated by the notorious Al-Shabaab group. However numerous organizations including the African Union and the United Nations pressured the Kenyan government to retract its decision, insisting that the Kenyan plan to shut down the camps and send refugees back was an unjust violation of human rights. As a result, Kenya’s high court voted to overturn the proposal in 2017, with Kenyan judge John Mativo reporting that “the government’s decision specifically targeting Somali refugees is an act of group persecution, illegal, discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional.” (Refugees International).
The High Court's decision was a good one for refugees in the short term, however it is not sustainable for Kenya or the refugee population in the long run. Although refugees are no longer required to return to an impoverished nation, their future success does still remain in question. The majority of refugees are unemployed and have not integrated into Kenyan society. Moreover, Kenya has spent more than $7 billion on Dadaab in the last quarter century (Reuters), with the sum considerably larger when other refugee establishments are factored in. The nation has invested sizeable amounts of capital into refugee camps, but can Kenya finance this for much longer? What is to happen to these displaced persons in the long-run?
Whilst the United States Institute of Peace focuses on ending the conflict in these war-torn nations, it must be ensured that the residents of Dadaab and other camps gain access to a prosperous future. It must be guaranteed that refugees reduce their dependency on the Kenyan government and foreign aid programs, therefore working towards self-sufficiency.
In order to achieve this goal, the United States has already dealt a hand through microfinance investments.
As of this fiscal year, USAID has provided $6 million towards microenterprise in Kenya (USG). Repeatedly proven through numerous studies, lending to the poor can pave the way to their escape from the ‘poverty trap’, a phenomenon in which the poor remain poor, resulting from a lack of capital and poor investment credit. “Poor Economics”, a book claiming to provide “A Radical Rethinking of the Way to Fight Global Poverty”, studies and compares research across several LEDC’s around the world; it concludes that it is becoming increasingly difficult for the poor to grow their businesses, due to an inability to ‘borrow to cross the hump’ (Banerjee and Duflo 223), the hump referring to the amount required in business investment for market survival. To overcome this, the creation of enterprises by refugees must be further stimulated. Loan schemes previously administered by the USAID’s Development Credit Authority, as well as the Kenya Commercial Bank, have shown remarkable success, where ‘Over 80% of those interviewed agreed that the loans given under the DCA guarantee made a difference in their lives.’ (USAID).
Regrettably, another large barrier exists. By law, refugees residing in Kenya are allowed to join the workforce, however a case study conducted in Nairobi claims that this is not the reality of the situation. The Hague Process on Refugees and Migration, in collaboration with Maastricht University’s Graduate School of Governance, found that a major issue thwarting refugee employment was that Alien ID cards are needed to obtain work and business permits, the problem being that ‘The government of Kenya has ceased to distribute these to refugees’, making them nearly impossible to acquire (Sturge). Without these cards, refugees are limited to small informal jobs, and cannot legally start their own businesses. Hence, to promote an environment of financial independency for the asylum-seekers, corruption must be reduced within the Kenyan Department of Refugee Affairs, as well as the Kenya Investment authority and the Department of Trade.
Once the previous issues have been addressed, refugees will legally be allowed to set up their businesses. Yet, for them to truly succeed, their products must be advertised to foreign markets, as to increase their economic yield. Under the African Growth and Opportunity Act, Kenya qualifies for duty free access to US markets, placing them at a significant advantage over non-AGOA nations. Nonetheless, with the aid of the Export Processing Zones Authority, a program run by the Kenyan government, this exposure can further be increased, as it allows firms across Kenya to gain contact with investors so as to expand their businesses.
Through the economic empowerment of refugees, the growth of terrorist organizations such as Al- Shabaab will be reduced as many will reconsider joining now that they have the financial means to survive. This will ensure peace and stability within the camps, as well as protecting Kenyan citizens.
During his 2015 trip to Kenya, Former President Barack Obama prophesized that "No country can achieve its full potential unless it draws on the talents of all its people". The refugees are now here to stay, therefore it must be certified that they are treated as equals and are given the opportunities to thrive & succeed.
Works in print
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