Cloud of uncertainty hangs over South Sudan refugees at Kakuma

Cloud of uncertainty hangs over South Sudan refugees at Kakuma
Kakuma Refugees Camp in Kenya could be closed down after June 30

A cloud of uncertainty hangs on the heads of South Sudanese refugees in Kakuma and Dadaab hangs up in the as deadline by the Kenyan government to close the camps inches closer.

Last year, the Kenyan government said that they will be closing the two camps, that houses over 400,000 refugees, largely from South Sudan and Somalia, by June 30, 2022.

And with exactly one month to the deadline, Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation, Deng Dau Deng, told The City Review that South Sudan is willing to accommodate its refugees in neighbouring countries.

Deng, however, noted that the country will need a lot of support, both financial and otherwise, to execute the plan.

“We raised the matter to the commissioner of refugees that yes South Sudan is ready and willing to receive their citizens back to the country. We therefore ask the High Commissioner to directly coordinate with the government of Kenya because it (repatriation) should be voluntary,” he disclosed.  

Deng added the government of South Sudan had been engaging IGAD on how to find win-win situation for both Kenyan government and the refugees.

 He explained that South Sudan was present at a summit in Yaounde, Cameroon, on March 27 that brought together countries hosting refugees, and that the conference settled on finding a durable solution to the problems.

According to Deng, the government has a clear policy and mandate for its citizens in Uganda, Kenya, and Sudan to return and that all the preparations have been made. “We have some steps that are being followed by the high commissioner and the host countries that are keeping them.”

Ready to go

But with the clock ticking, the key question that the government will be grappling is how they will intergrade the returnees bck to the community.

The closure of the camp will not only disrupt normal lives of the refugees but also education system with barely three months before students sit for national examinations in Kenya, in December.

“Our message to the UN is that we are willing to receive our citizens back though some conditions have to be met so that when they come, the host community will be able to receive their returnees back to the country of origin, “Deng asserted.

However, a South Sudanese refugee, writer, and community organiser, who spent 11 years in the Kakuma refugee camp before emigrating to Canada last year, highlighted concerns about the refugees who would remain in the camps after June 30, 2022.

Kenya is due to hold general elections on August 9. According to Nhial Deng, politicians from all parties who are rolling out election campaigns to mobilise Kenyans to vote for them seldom mention Dadaab, Kakuma, and the refugees who live there. Even the most prominent presidential contenders— former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and Vice President William Ruto—have been completely silent on the issue.

‘‘Maybe the candidates think talking about refugee camps in the run-up to the election may affect their chances of winning, or leave them open to populist attacks,’’ Nhial noted.

“I am scared about what may happen on June 30, but I am also hopeful for the future. If the camps are not closed in a month – and it is very unlikely that they will be – Kenya’s new leader will have an unmissable opportunity to transform something that has been seen as a problem for decades into an opportunity”.

In April 2021, UNHCR presented to the government of Kenya sustainable and rights-based measures to find a solution for the displacement of refugees following a two-week ultimatum to develop a road map for the closure of the camps.