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Mohamed Noor Mohamed
Mohamed Noor Mohamed is the leader of the host community in Dagahaley
Dadaab refugee camp: 30 years in search of dignity
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Mohamed was among the first two Kenyan families to start living in Dagahaley. “Before me, there was only the chief. At that time there were numerous challenges but now they are resolved,” he says.
He briefly narrates how he witnessed the kidnapping of two MSF staff in Dagahaley that occurred in 2011: “I was in danger that day: one of the attackers came to my home as they were trying to escape. I was in the area with the two ladies. At that time, I thought these were local men trying to disturb the staff. They were five in total – four others were waiting on the other side. After 15 minutes, the others came and pointed guns at their heads, and also threatened to kill me. That’s when I knew that this wasn’t a joke. The MSF driver was shot and they left with the MSF vehicle. I have never been so scared in my life. I lived in fear for the two months that followed, thinking they might reappear.”
Besides a few incidences that occurred in the few years that followed, security has greatly improved.
We have lived together with these refugees for 30 years. When they first came, we had lots of issues as we did not know them then. This was a huge forest before and we had huge droves of animals, the only challenge then was finding water. Some people had thousands of animals that having 300 heads of cattle was considered being poor. Despite that, there wasn’t as much drought as we have now. The massive deforestation that took place when the refugees came was like nothing I’ve ever seen. We were pastoralists, but now we have had to shift tact a bit. Even though UNHCR planted trees, what they planted is dangerous to animals.
The population then was also quite sparse, now the population is high. Though we appreciate as there is a market now and amenities have been put up. It’s like a town now. We all understand each other and have no problems. We don’t know the problem that our government has with the refugees, but for us we are okay. We conduct business together, share animals, and the market is booming as we all run our businesses together. We have also intermarried a lot with refugees, we go to the schools in the camp and have a good relationship with them.
I am aware of the discussions between the government and UNHCR to close the camp by June 2022. I also heard on the radio about MSF asking for refugees not to be forced out of the camps.
A person who was born here as a refugee when the camp was set up is now 30 years old. We urge the government not to force these people back to Somalia, which remains insecure. If UNHCR is tired of feeding refugees, then that’s a problem on their side and they should say so, not blame refugees. The refugees have been supported for a long time and we’ve seen the services shrink over time: the food, the other humanitarian services. They are tired.
We are not happy about these calls by the government to close the camp. If the refugees leave, this place will turn into a forest. It seems we’ll also have to leave because we can’t survive here without access to water and the other services that we enjoy now.
The refugees have been hosted here in kindness for 30 years. Forcing them out would not paint a good picture, even for us. Return should be voluntary and gradual, they shouldn’t be forced out.
We only learnt of the decision to close the camp through the media; nobody consulted us. No elders or security folks in the host community were consulted. The government just decided that now they will close the camp. I we had issues with the [refugees], we’d have reported. Right now you can move safely in the camp: no security threats.
The government says they want to close the camo because of insecurity, but if you observe keenly, insecurity is worse in other parts of Kenya where there are no refugees. Look at Mandera, Lamu, Ijara and others. The insecurity in these places is bad, yet there are no refugees there. The camp is safe.
This could be as a result of diplomatic tussles between Kenya and Somalia, and refeugees used as pawns in their fight. Being seen to be forcefully chasing them may actually lead to more issues for us. I don’t know where these problems that the government saw are from, because in case of any incidences, we are usually the first to be contacted to share our views, but there haven’t been any.
We are also agents of peace – we have pastoralists moving around the outskirts of the camps who are part of our family. They are always on the lookout for any unusual movements out there and notify us.
Since MSF is here to help refugees, will they stay to serve the host community once the refugees leave?
When MSF came, we are the ones who welcomed them with open arms, but it seems MSF is tired of staying in the camp and want to leave. They are no longer sharing information with us, or to involve us in some of the things and decisions they make. The relationship should improve.
We should work together with MSF as we need each other. It has been the best compared to the other organisations.”
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