Dadaab Camp, Kenya

Just two days ago the Kenya Government informed the UNCHR that the Dadaab Refugee Camp in northern Kenya would be closed in November 2016. This camp has been in operation since 1991 and has housed mainly Somali refugees. It is home to 320,000 refugees, making it the largest refugee camp in the world. Zataari, the refugee camp for Syrians in Jordan, houses 80,000 people. Dadaab is four times bigger.

While we continue to see the European migration crisis in the headlands and see nightly images of refugees crossing the Mediterranean Sea being picked up by EU search and rescue ships, we tend to forget the 20 million refugees who lives in protracted situations like those in Dadaab. Around the world some 60 million people are displaced persons caused by wars, famine and climate change crises.

Dadaab camp itself began in 1991 as a refugee camp to house displaced persons from Somali. There were initially 90,000 people in the camp. It has grown exponentially since, its numbers varying with the seasons of the conflict situation in Somalia itself.
In the last two years, the Kenyan Government has become increasing convinced that the camp is enabling the presence of Al-Shabaab militants in the area and wants it closed. Kenyan miltiary forces have been engaged for some time in an on-going operation against Al-Shabaab within Somalia itself. MSF personnel have been kidnapped by Al-Shabaab within the camp and sold on to the pirates on the coast.

Damian McSweeney, an Irish Aid representative in the camp and a lecturer at University College Cork, believes that the Kenyan military operation has as its long-term goal the complete refoulement of Somali displaced persons back to Somalia itself. This will expose them to violence, a precarious living environement and, perhaps, a long-term period of insecurity beyond the reach of the humanitarian agencies. Agencies such as the UNHCR are extremely concerned about this evolving situation.

Let us not forgot the Dadaab Camp refugees.


Creating Signs of Hope for Syria

Global Call for Acts of Solidarity and Days of Prayer and Fasting for Syria
In solidarity of all victims of this brutal war
15 March 2016: 5 years since the start of the protests

Pax Christi International is calling all people of good will to organise acts of solidarity and days of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria between 15 and 20 March 2016. We call on individuals and organisations to show solidarity with refugees and victims of war and violence and create signs of hope that peace can come again in Syria.

In March 2011, Syrian civilians started non-violent demonstrations to demand basic freedoms and rights. The regime’s extreme repression led to the militarisation of the protests, evolving to a systemic war that has affected the whole region.

In the five years since, more than 250.000 people have been killed, more than 13.5 million people inside Syria are in need of emergency relief and 6.5 million civilians are internally displaced, including hundreds of thousands in besieged cities, deprived of food and basic services. Moreover, more than 4.6 million Syrian refugees have fled to neighbouring countries and the wider region.

The conflict in Syria has also worsened the situation of the Palestinian refugees in Syria and Iraqi refugees living in the region. Their plight must not be forgotten. We are also in solidarity with the thousands of civil society activists in Syria. Despite scarce resources and limited solidarity, they continue their struggle for justice and are intensely engaged in humanitarian relief efforts.

This war has lasted too long and there is no perspective that it will end soon. The destruction of human lives and of a whole country must come to an end. We urge for the respect for human lives. The attacks against civilians and the bombardments need to stop, and the sieges should be lifted. The protection of civilians is at the forefront. Talks need to be intensified!

Organising an act of solidarity or day of fasting or prayer is also an occasion to meet with refugees in your own community. Please share your events and stories and photos with us via Facebook or Twitter (#HopeforSyria). In the course of the coming weeks we will provide you with update information so that you can prepare your actions.

Whatever resources you may have are welcome. Please share them with us. We will add them to that will be created on 18 February, 2016.

The Red Cross and Migration

Last week I went to see the film, Brooklyn, based on a novel of the same name by Irish writer, Colm Toibín. It was at once both enjoyable and moving. For someone who grew up in 1950s Ireland the representation of the Ireland of that period is pitch-perfect. On the other hand, this is not a Frank McCourt a rain, gloom, and my-awful-Irish-Catholic-oppressive-childhood narrative. If anything, it portrays an Ireland, which by today’s standards (as we witness the presence of gangland crime in our cities), was a very safe place to grow up. What the film focuses from the outset was the limited range of life-options open to people at that time. People very often had to leave.

It is a tribute to the quality of Irish education at that time that many Irish people could leave Ireland to go to the United States and progress their education there very rapidly. Eilis, Saoirse Ronan’s character, is able to go to college to pursue an accountancy degree within her first year of employment.

Many of today’s migrants are similarly well-educated. A high proportion of migrants coming to our shores today have third-level degrees.

Our century has witnessed several waves of mass migration. The first took place in central Europe after World War I when populations resettled after the creation of many new States, especially following the dissolution of the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

A second similar mass dislocation of populations took place in Europe following World War II. It began with the rise of Hitler’s Germany and the departure of Jews and others to other countries to escape Nazi anti-Semitic violence and genocide. Later, mass evacuations took place as people sought to escape from the war. Following the war, as the borders of Europe were redefined millions of people were on the move as whole populations were relocated within the new European borders.

Hungarian Refugees at a refugee camp near Limerick city in 1956
Hungarian Refugees at a refugee camp near Limerick city in 1956

Following the 1956 anti-Soviet uprising in Hungary we in Ireland welcomed Hungarian refugees with open arms. Their experience in Ireland was not entirely a happy one. Like today’s refugees, they had ambitions to go elsewhere. The United States was their preferred destination. Archbishop John Charles McQuaid of Dublin intervened with the Irish government to assist their passage onward to the United States. Some however remained in Ireland to marry and raise families. The Hungarian refugee experience provides a salutary lesson that good will is not enough when it comes to welcoming newcomers to Ireland.

One organisation that was particularly active throughout this whole period was the Red Cross. National societies of the Red Cross have always been to the fore in assisting refugees and migrants. In 1995 the International Red Cross movement at its General Assembly highlighted “the restrictive measures taken by host countries and the expression of racism, xenophobia and discrimination among some of them” and requested National Societies “to consider action in favour of migrant populations” and invited them to “encourage migrants to take part in their activities”. From that point, the International Red Cross has been prominently active in the provision of assistance to migrants and refugees.

It is, therefore, understandable that in 2015, in response to the Europe-wide migration crisis, many governments, including the Irish government, assigned to national Red Cross societies a lead role in coordinating efforts on behalf of migrants. We can be justifiably proud of their activities.

Currently, the Irish Red Cross is coordinating the provision of accommodation for Syrian refugees arriving in Ireland. We wish them every success and pledge our support in this important humanitarian undertaking.

See this interesting article by Scott Boldt in the Belfast magazine Hub on the topic of migration. Scott is known to many in the world of education in Ireland because of his research work. He was associated for a long time with the Marino Institute of Education in Dublin. Today, he works with a variety of humanitarian agencies in Belfast.