"It Is Better to Be a Refugee Than a Turkana in Kakuma": Revisiting the Relationship between Hosts and Refugees in Kenya

By Aukot, Ekuru | Refuge, May 2003 | Go to article overview

"It Is Better to Be a Refugee Than a Turkana in Kakuma": Revisiting the Relationship between Hosts and Refugees in Kenya


Aukot, Ekuru, Refuge


Abstract

The article echoes stories and perceptions of the hosts to the refugees in their day-to-day relations in Kakuma refugee camp with little emphasis on academic abstraction of refugee protection contained in international instruments but rather on the realities on the ground. It is argued that good refugee-host relations enhance refugees' enjoyment of their rights under the international conventions and promote local integration. The article discusses areas of conflict between refugees and their hosts and how these factors endanger refugees' physical protection, and it echoes the hosts' solutions to the conflicts. The failure of local integration is attributed to poor refugee-host relations. Consequently, it is argued that even the enactment of refugee-specific legislation "that would give force" to the international conventions will not necessarily improve refugees' enjoyment of their rights as long as, through a practice of selective compassion by humanitarian agencies and international refugee law, refugees are targeted for assistance without regard to the negative impact on the local economy and its residents.

Resume

Cet article rapporte des recits et des perceptions emanant des hotes vis-a-vis des refugies dans leurs relations quotidiennes dans le camp de refugies de Kakuma. Il fait peu de cas des dispositions theoriques en matiere de protection de refugies contenues dans les instruments internationaux, mais considere plutot la realite sur le terrain. Il fait valoir que de bonnes relations entre refugies et hotes augmentent la capacite des refugies de se prevaloir des droits que leur conferent les conventions internationales et facilitent l'integration au niveau local. L'article examine les zones de conflit entre refugies et hotes et aussi comment ces facteurs constituent un danger la protection physique des refugies. Il relate aussi les solutions que les hotes proposent a ces conflits. L'echec de l'integration locale est attribue aux mauvaises relations entre refugies et hotes. Par consequent, l'article soutient que meme la promulgation d'une loi rendant executoire les conventions internationales sur les refugies ne permettra pas necessairement a ces derniers de mieux jouir de leurs droits. Selon l'article, ce phenomene durera rant que les agences humanitaires et le droit international des refugies pratiquent une << compassion selective >>, ciblant les refugies pour les assister, mais sans tenir compte de l'impact negatif que cela peut avoir sur l'economie locale et ses habitants.

   It is better to be a refugee than a Turkana in Kakuma. (1)

Introduction

Between 1991 and 1998, the civil wars in the Horn and the Great Lakes region of Africa brought ten nationalities to live among a people in Turkana District, Kenya, so impoverished that the refugees came to be seen as a threat. The region experienced an unprecedented wave of refugee flows, resulting in large concentrations not only of refugees, but also of hundreds of thousands of displaced peasants, agro-pastoralists, urban dwellers, and militias. This escalated in the 1999-2001 civil and political unrest in the DRC and Sudan, the recent election violence in the islands of Pemba and Zanzibar (2) and the continued insurgence in northern Ugandan by the Lord Resistance Army (LRA). The flight of these people poses problems that have far-reaching consequences for the host country, the region, and individuals.

This article focuses on the exiles' reception in Kakuma refugee camp, not by UNHCR or the government, but by the local tribe, the Turkana (hereinafter, the hosts). In the first part, it briefly introduces Kakuma, the hosts, and the refugees. Secondly, the areas of conflict are discussed. Thirdly, and in view of the context, it poses the question whether local integration as a durable solution could be realized. Fourthly, the possible impact of refugee-specific legislation, if any, is analyzed.

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