Kenyan military moving north; photo by Andre Vltchek

Kenyan military moving north; photo by Andre Vltchek

As a result of Kenya’s recent invasion of Somalia, the situation in Kenyan refugee camps has sharply deteriorated and is now on the verge of a full-scale humanitarian crisis. In Dadaab, the largest refugee camp on earth with close to half a million people, cholera has broken out, services have deteriorated, and access for both humanitarian agencies and international observers (including press) has become even more difficult.

Refugee camps in northern Kenya, mostly swollen with Somali refugees escaping sporadic fighting and insecurity in their native land, are restless. Naturally Dadaab remains the biggest problem, although other camps are growing, including Kakuma, which in Swahili word means “nowhere.” The people in these camps have lost all hope of going back or moving forward. The war in Somalia prevents them from returning home, while Kenya does not give them an opportunity to resettle on its territory or even to travel outside the camps. Many have been born in these camps, brought up there, and probably will never leave.

Also restless is the Eastleigh neighborhood in Nairobi, often nicknamed Little Mogadishu. Anti-Somali feelings in Kenya are on the rise. Kenya is a country with a long and deep history of racially motivated violence that includes post-election violence in 2008 that left thousands dead. Since the invasion of Somalia, government officials and ordinary citizens have been uttering ominous threats, like “cleaning up Eastleigh.” An employee of an international agency operating in Nairobi – a U.S. citizen of Somali origin – told me that she had been harassed on several occasions simply because of her appearance.

In the meantime, thousands of families in Nairobi – both Kenyan and Somali – have become victims of what officials often call the Kenyan war on terror. In the last days and weeks, police and army officials accompanying excavators and bulldozers have torn down slum dwellings as well as multi-story buildings. The official explanation is that these buildings intrude on the flight path of military planes. Nairobi has three major airports. Since these military planes could approach from two directions, it allows the government to destroy the dwellings of tens of thousands of people if it chooses to do so.

Visiting one of the demolition sites in Eastleigh, I was told by Gilbert, a former resident: “There is no discussion and no negotiation. That’s how it is in Kenya. They call it democracy, but in fact the government can come and throw us onto the street. If we protest, they shoot to kill.”

Andre Vltchek is a novelist, filmmaker, journalist, and FPIF contributor based in East Africa and Asia. His latest book, about neo-colonialism in the South Pacific, is called Oceania. He is presently working on documentary film on Rwanda and Congo/DRC and can be reached at

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