Kenya: The forgotten host community
29 May 2009

Turkana women can be seen throughout Kakuma refuee camp transporting goods. (Sophie Vodvarka/JRS)
For 17 years, the host community has shared their meager resources with refugees in Kakuma refugee camp, which at its peak hosted 95,000.
Kakuma, 29 May 2009 Conflict between the local Turkana population in Kakuma and the humanitarian presence serving a refugee camp of 18,000 displaced persons from the region, has recently been resolved through dialogue. The host community and the heads of agencies agreed to work together in order to find out about the real needs of the local Turkana population and to address these needs where possible.

At the beginning of May the leaders of the Turkana host community in Kakuma mobilised the members of their community and demonstrated for better employment opportunities with the aid organisations that are present in the area. The confrontation which was accompanied by threats and violence targeted the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and their implementing and operational partners on the ground, which are assisting over 42,000 refugees at Kakuma refugee camp. Some members of the police and the host community were injured during the demonstrations.

The representatives of the local community expressed employment and health issues as well as environment conservation and community empowerment as their issues of concern making it clear that they feel disadvantaged.

Establishing Kakuma among the Turkana

Kakuma refugee camp is located in Turkana District, northwestern Kenya. About 80 percent of the land in the Turkana region is considered arid or very arid with average temperatures reaching 38 degrees. Turkanas are nomadic pastoralists. The majority live in poverty and for decades their basic needs have not been met while they suffered drought and famines.

In 1992, the Kenyan government agreed to establish a refugee camp in Kakuma originally for refugees from Sudan who were soon joined by refugees from other parts of Africa like Rwanda, Burundi, Ethiopia, Somalia and Congo. They had fled conflict and war in their respective countries and once registered received aid from different organisations most of which were operating under the umbrella of UNHCR. Over the last 17 years UNHCR and its partner organisations have provided the basic necessities as well as protection from security threats to the refugees living in the camp. The services provided include education, healthcare, legal and mental counselling, distribution of food and building material, water and the implementation of different assistance programmes.

Sharing land and resources

However, according to the mandate of the organisations involved, these services primarily target the refugee community, not the host community. Although some agencies have initiated projects which respond to the overwhelming needs of the host community the impact remains little. For 17 years, the host community has shared their meager resources with the refugees in Kakuma refugee camp, which at its peak hosted 95,000.

JRS had offered and continues to offer scholarships to the local community. In 1994 it provided school text books to three schools in Lodwar and Kakuma.

After the recent events organisations will now reflect on how best to re-design their social responsibility approach and respond adequately to the needs of the host community. JRS Kakuma is working closely with UNHCR and all implementing and operational partners on the ground to offer possible solutions.

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