by Paulina French
Imagine what it must be like to be born in a country that is not your own. To have ended up in a foreign land because of the actions of others and not by your own choice.
Imagine that you have lived all your life in a camp known as a “refugee camp” because your own home country, Somalia, has been embroiled in a civil war since 1992. Imagine you are a 24 year old woman, born in this camp, who has fallen in love with your husband and given birth to your first child in the camp. You are now pregnant with your second child. I cannot think of a time in my own life when I felt most in need of belonging, love and support than during the early years of starting my own family.
Now the only home you have known is the one you are being told you have to leave. You have lived in the largest refugee camp in the world, Dadaab in Kenya. More than 300 000 people live in this camp. This means that you would, as an asylum seeker, be forced to return to the situation your own parents fled 24 years ago.
Why? Because, as the Interior Minister of Kenya said, at a news conference in Nairobi on Wednesday, the 11th of May, “For reasons of pressing national security that speak to the safety of Kenyans in a context of terrorist and criminal activities, the government of the Republic of Kenya has commenced the exercise of closing Dadaab refugee complex.”
Mwenda Njoka, interior ministry spokesman, said: “The message is clear; we are closing the camps and we will not accept more refugees into the country.” The consequences of this decision will be devastating to refugees. Human Rights Watch has noted that politicians often bring up refugee issues during election cycles and Kenya’s elections are set for next year.
Pope Francis visited Kenya in November last year and was well received. Kenyan senator, Joy Gwendo, said she hoped the Pope’s presence would help bring about the reconciliation of Kenyans divided along tribal lines. But it seems that the Kenyan government is now creating an even bigger divide amongst those in their country who are in need of love and support.
I think of my own family and my own children. How would I feel if I had to flee my country with my family because of war? I would have to leave behind all that I know and love. Coupled with uncertainty and the fight for survival would be my need to feel accepted and loved. My need to protect my children from extreme suffering would be the only motivation to choose to be refugees. Anyone of us could be a refugee.
Can the international community accept that the most vulnerable in society will be expected to “suck it up” and just accept “their lot in life”? Lest we forget, Jesus’ family were refugees too.