By NLM Reporter
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees marked the International Day for Refugees with a panel discussion and award ceremony at the Nairobi National Museum last month.
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Under the national theme ‘Include All, Empower All’ the event brought together refugees and other stakeholders in the humanitarian world with a view to finding permanent solutions to the burgeoning refugee crisis.
The discussion unearthed a number of important issues, foremost being the general consensus that a resolution of the refugee problem required a shift policy from alienation and repatriation towards integration.
According to Ms Tabisha Esperance, who represents refugees living in Kenya, while efforts until now have been geared towards voluntary repatriation, most refugees are not keen on returning to their countries of origin due to the relative good life they have become accustomed to in the host country compared to their own.
While less than ideal, Kenya guarantees social amenities such as schools and hospitals and provides opportunities that are harder to come by in countries ravaged by war. Although a refugee and without formal training, Esparance had gone on establish herself as a respected designer at the Kakuma Refugee Camp, efforts which attracted the support of the lead fashion and design brand Kiko Romeo.
From dependents to contributors
The panellists emphasised the need to integrate refugees into the host community by minimising restrictions on movement and providing them with equal opportunity for self-empowerment.
For Prof Peter Kagwanja, this is the only way through which refugees can cross over from being dependents, to contribute to the economy of the country through skill, labour and taxation. In doing so, he suggested that governments in the region sign a declaration of equality of east African citizens thereby eliminating any distinctions between a refugee and a legitimate citizen.
The international community follows every refugee with resources. According to Ivana Unluova, UNHCR Assistant Representative, if refugees were to be integrated into the host community, humanitarian spending targeting refugees would equally benefit the host community, thereby reducing the government’s development expenditure. The alternative, concentrating resources on refugee centres, is not only costly but also wasteful in that such amenities remain unused upon repatriation.
Even more illuminating is a suggestion by the EU’s to shift away from humanitarian spending to development funding. There is a need for government to incorporate refugees into national policy, funding, decision making and planning which, coupled with efforts to minimise wastage and misappropriation, can spread resources to marginalised areas and transform them into attractive business hubs.
According to a research done by the International Finance Corporation (IFC), the combination of Kakuma and the adjoining Kalobei creates a market of close to 400,000 people, all in need of basic amenities that can only come by through monetisation.
Kalobei needs additional banks to the single entity that supports the area, as well as connectivity and Internet solution providers to add to and satisfy the needs of 65% of the population that owns phones, electricity, and consumer goods, among much more.