Dadaab, Kenya, 3 December 2021 - UN-Habitat, working with local officials and the local host and refugee community, is helping develop a future development strategy for one of the world’s largest refugee complexes.

The UN Human Settlement Programme’s activity in this north-eastern Kenyan town gains particular timeliness and importance in light of the Kenyan government’s announcement in March 2021 to close all refugee camps in the country.

Run by the UN refugee agency UNHCR and financed by multiple donors, Dabaab hosts the three camps of Dagahaley, Ifo and Hagadera with an estimated 200,000 refugees from various African countries.

UN-Habitat’s work is Dabaab is in line with its similar work with other refugee communities in Kenya.

The Dadaab Visioning programme, funded by the European Union Trust Fund for Africa (EUTF), aims to create a consolidation strategy that is reflective of the residents’ needs and priorities.

To achieve utmost results, UN-Habitat recently hosted a series of virtual community planning sessions to ensure that relevant stakeholders are consulted on their vision for the evolution of the Dadaab area.

Within this programme, visioning refers to the process where the host and remaining refugee community of Dadaab, Garissa County Government, and development partners define their desired future.

The recent Refugee Community Planning Group session was conducted as follow up to prior sessions with the Dadaab Town host community and aimed to gain insights into the challenges faced by the refugee camps residents, as well as to understand the current relationship with the host community. Education, health, security, and infrastructure shortages were among the issues discussed.

Two of the participants, Ali Ahmed and Ahmed Bile elaborated on the different problems posed from the lack of access to education, particularly tertiary education.

In Hagadera refugee camp, Ahmed said, there is a shortage of trained teachers in primary schools, adding that students also face the added disadvantage of poor-quality infrastructure. Due to the hot climate in the camps, learning in classrooms made of timber and iron sheets is not a conducive environment because they tend to overheat in the afternoon, he said. 

Participants also spoke of troubles in accessing basic healthcare. One participant, Ahmed Bile, said health facilities in Ifo refugee camp were less accessible in comparison to Dagahaley and Hagadera refugee camps. Another participant said refugees living in Ifo camp have to travel long distances to the other camps to access medication and treatments due to resource and infrastructure shortages.

Transport itself is expensive in Dadaab and many of the roads become flooded and impassable throughout the year, making access to basic services even more difficult.

In addition to the daily challenges, Ali Abdi Bedel spoke about interconnected relationships between the refugee and host community in Dadaab and how both the host and refugee communities had achieved a degree of coexistence over the years. 

“The issue of lack of health infrastructure uniformly affects both hosts and refugees,” Bedel says. “Host communities have also become dependent on the health facilities in the camps because of services provided by NGOs,” he said referring to non-governmental organisations.

Furthermore, Bedel spoke of the intermarriages between refugees and host communities and how both sides have developed business partnerships.

Nevertheless, the participants discussed potential opportunities to address the challenges in the camps. Some commented on the need for extracurricular activities for students such as exchange programmes with students from other schools to expand their worldview. Participants further stressed the need for enhanced business opportunities for the refugee community within the camps to achieve economic empowerment. 

The programme will utilise the lessons learned from past programming on integration of refugee and host community members, and drive the discussions and agenda for sustainable urbanization, which UN-Habitat is supporting as custodian of SDG 11.