Like everything born in times of emergency, the world’s largest refugee camp was not supposed to exist for so many years, so far into the twenty-first century. But Dadaab still stands. Located in north-eastern Kenya, it was opened between October 1991 and June 1992 to shelter refugees fleeing Somalia’s civil war.
The initial intention was for the three camps at Dadaab to provide shelter for up to 90,000 people, according to the official website of the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR). However, the site confirms that more than 463,000 refugees currently live in the complex of camps, including some 10,000 people who make up the third generation to have been born in Dadaab of refugee parents, also born there.
Dadaab paradoxically constitutes both a point of conflict and of amalgam. It is the third most populated Kenyan “city” after Nairobi and Mombasa and, from the family point of view, the question of the nationality of its residents is a complex one given the lack of anthropological surveys.
The current dispute, however, is not regarding this issue, but rather the closure of the camp. Kenya argues that the camp has “become a haven for terrorism and other illegal activities.” However, UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch stated that “Refugee returns to country of origin should be voluntarily, in safety and dignity and when conditions are conducive.”
However, since President Mohamed Abdullahi Farmajo took office in February, Somalia has appeared to be in favor of the return of its refugees. The new President has announced that he wishes to work for the reconstruction of the country, severely hit by drought and civil war.
All this amid the backdrop of famine across the Horn of Africa, with 12 million people suffering food shortages in Djibouti, Ethiopia, Kenya, Somalia, Uganda, and Eritrea, in need of emergency aid from international agencies.