SHUTTING the Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya, thought to be the largest in the world, could mean that record numbers of people would be displaced across North Africa and Europe, the international Christian charity World Vision has warned during World Refugee Week.
The move, imposed by the Kenyan government last month (News, 13 May), will lead to a “humanitarian disaster” by forcing 350,000 Somali refugees to move back to the homeland from which they fled, the charity said. This is despite a reversal of the government’s decision to close a second camp, Kakuma, on its northern border, which is host to almost 200,000 refugees, mainly from South Sudan.
On World Refugee Day, on Monday, World Vision UK’s senior humanitarian policy adviser, Johan Eldebo, called on world leaders and governments, particularly in Europe, to face up to the crisis on its doorstep.
“The Kenyan government, like many others, is struggling to help millions of displaced and desperate people. But this is not just an issue for Kenya or Africa,” he said this week.
“It’s time for Europe and the rest of the world to accept that we can’t wish the refugee challenge away. We must take collective action to address the root causes driving migration, and ensure refugees are not marginalised, or left unproductive for years in camps.”
A former Archbishop of Canterbury, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, who is chairman of the charity Christian Aid, urged the UK not to “turn a blind eye” to the suffering of refugees. “We can and must do more to respond,” he said. “The rhetoric in the media is one that suggests that the UK is ‘full’, and that those arriving on our shores are ‘a drain on our economy’.
“Not only are these assertions unfounded, but they fail to recognise the positive, life-affirming contributions that generations of refugees have made to British society — and that we ourselves are changed by welcoming the stranger.”
He went on: “Rather than treating people with hostility and disdain, we must recognise that every neighbour is our neighbour, and that we have it within ourselves to respond with compassion and welcome, and to offer an opportunity for people to rebuild their lives.”
His plea came as about 250 vehicles, carrying aid for refugees living in the Calais refugee camps, were denied entry by the French authorities. A statement from the prefect of Pas-de-Calais department stated that the arrival of the convoy had the potential to “generate violent episodes” and cited a lack of police officers.
To mark World Refugees Week, which began on Monday, students at Saint Gabriel’s College, a Church of England secondary school in south London, have set up a network of Refugee Welcome Schools, in partnership with Citizens UK, to set “an example for how refugees should be treated”.