Kenya: Scaling up services for incoming Somalis in Kakuma
24 April 2009

Somalis, like Hassan (left) and his family, are fleeing Somalia in staggering numbers and many are settling in Kakuma refugee camp. (Sophie Vodvarka/JRS)
The expected population has started coming into Kakuma in small numbers but it is expected that around 10,000 Somalis will have come in by the end of the year.
Kakuma, 24 April 2009 The question whether Kakuma Refugee Camp is closing down has been on the minds of many people who visited the camp recently. Despite the growing number of Somalis, Darfurians, and Congolese refugees at the camp services for the refugees have been scaled down continuously. The successful repatriation of most of the Southern Sudanese refugees made donors and organisations assume that 17 years after it had been created in 1992, Kakuma refugee camp is on the verge of closing down.

The current population in Kakuma is at around 50,000 refugees of whom 70% are young women and men. The number keeps increasing because 500 Somali refugees arrive monthly. In January 2009, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) announced that 50,000 refugees are expected to be relocated from Dadaab Camp in north-eastern Kenya which with a population of 250,000 has long exhausted its capacity to host more new arrivals. The expected population has started coming into Kakuma in small numbers but it is expected that around 10,000 Somalis will have come in by the end of the year.

Sudanese repatriation slows

The Sudanese repatriation which progressed well in the past year has slowed down. So far over 15,600 refugees have been assisted to return by the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) and the Lutheran World Federation (LWF) and over 25,000 are assumed to have repatriated spontaneously though it cannot be confirmed whether they have returned to Sudan or relocated to other parts of Kenya. While UNHCR Kakuma had anticipated having repatriated at least another 10,000 by the end of 2009 they have now revised the number for repatriation from 10,000 to 5000. The fact that fewer refugees are volunteering to register for repatriation has various reasons. Refugees fear the growing insecurity as well as the uncertain future which lies ahead of them. Due to reports from fellow Sudanese who have returned already refugees in Kakuma are well aware of the challenges they will be confronted with once they return. After years of camp life they also have become dependent on the services provided by relief agencies and fear the moment they cannot rely on them anymore. 

The services in Kakuma have been scaled down significantly. While in the area of education there were seven pre-schools, 25 primary schools and four secondary schools before, now only one secondary, five primary schools and six pre-schools are still providing education for 20,000 children in the camp. Medical services have also been reduced from the original five to only two clinics. This has resulted in congestion in the main hospital making it difficult for refugees to get easy access to medical services.

Number of Somalis growing

The growing numbers of Somalis, however, indicate that Kakuma refugee camp is at a turning point and will soon be back to its original numbers which were around 100,000 at its peak. But most agencies are ill prepared to meet the challenges of dealing with the faster growing number of refugees since most of them have not budgeted for increasing their services and now lack the necessary funding.

JRS Kakuma is currently developing new strategies to address the needs of the Somali refugees. During his recent visit to Kakuma, JRS Eastern Africa Regional Director Fr. Frido Pflueger SJ, said services must be scaled up, quick measures taken and more funds raised to respond adequately to the needs of the huge number of refugees expected to arrive in Kakuma in the near future. He applauded the efforts made by the JRS Kakuma in order to serve refugees in the past but also emphasised that there is need to redesign the JRS approach to make services suitable for the specific needs of the Somali population. JRS Kakuma is fully aware of the challenges and will soon come up with a new proposal to be prepared for the new situation.

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