World Refugee Day Celebrations in Nairobi
20 June 2017

Ms. Nyachuol Ruai from South Sudan and a student at Egerton University, speaks on behalf of other refugees during the 2017 World Refugee Day celebrations in Nairobi.
The time is now to change attitudes towards refugees by rejecting indifference and exclusion, overcoming fear and promoting openness and inclusion.

The World Refugee Day was observed in various parts of the world on Tuesday June 20 2017. In Kenya, the occasion was marked nationally at the graduation grounds of the University of Nairobi, under a mildly sunny sky. In attendance, refugees hailing from the main conflict zones on the continent mingled with aid workers from many humanitarian organizations and representatives of the local and national governments. The ceremony opened with the national anthems of Kenya and the East African Community skillfully executed by the University of Nairobi choir, followed by a prayer offered by Lilian Mugombozi, the JRS Kenya education coordinator. Soon after, the delightful talking drums of Burundi entertained the assembly as a few more guests, having at last won their duel with traffic, continued to trickle in.

The overall atmosphere was undoubtedly different from a year ago when the annual event was transformed into a sad trading of aggrieved declarations between refugees, human rights activists and the humanitarian community on the one hand and the Kenyan government on the other, following the latter’s announcement a month earlier that it would close Dadaab, then the largest refugee camp in the world. One year down the line, the government position has softened significantly, although it remains committed to the voluntary repatriation program of Somali refugees. Fears of forced repatriation were eventually allayed and efforts have been focused on assisting Somalia to secure more of its territory to encourage refugees to return home.

Thus, the mood this time around was dominated by sentiments of hospitality and solidarity. One after another, the speakers emphasized these values, almost as if sensing that they are under attack in other parts of the globe. The refugee representative, a student at Egerton University, expressed gratitude to the government of Kenya for their open door attitude towards refugees over the years. She thanked the UNHCR and its partner organizations for providing protection to refugees and enabling young refugees like her to go to school because, as she put it, “education is the key” for a future without forced displacement. She urged all presents, particularly the government and partner organizations, to invest more in girls’ education, particularly among refugees, and to increase the fight against practices that violates the rights of women including FGM (female genital mutilation) and child marriages.

Mr. Raouf Mazou, UNHCR Kenya representative, also commended the government’s commitment to the protection of refugees, but added that more needs to be done. He insisted that the time is now “to change attitudes” towards refugees by rejecting fear and exclusion, and went on to observe that “refugees bring solutions, not problems”. There is need, he continued, to overcome indifference and fear and promote more openness and inclusion towards refugees. Inclusion, he said, was at the heart of the theme of the day (STANDING TOGETHER WITH REFUGEES) and, in the context of a world increasingly characterized by closed borders and the rise of nationalistic entrenchment, the time is now to stand up for the humanity’s values of inclusion, solidarity and hospitality.

The government of Kenya, represented by the Interior Cabinet Secretary, Hon. Joseph Nkaissery, reiterated its commitment to hospitality and protection of the rights of refugees. The CS noted that the government includes refugees in its strategic planning in education, economy and other sectors. He expressed his satisfaction at the way the voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees was going, whose success he attributed to improved collaboration with Somalia that has secured more territory within Somalia allowed more refugees to return home. He called on the international community to address the refugee situation by adopting a multi-pronged strategy. Such a strategy should seek to address the root causes of conflict, development of countries plagued by war, support to countries hosting refugees and helping countries in conflict to solve their problems.

The event concluded with a cocktail of cultural performances from various countries including Burundi, Uganda, South Sudan, Congo and Ethiopia.

By Yves Rene Shema

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