Enthusiastic turnout for elections at world's largest refugee site

News Stories, 28 August 2013

© UNHCR/D.Mwancha
Refugees cast ballots to select their representatives from among the more than one thousand candidates standing in elections at the Dadaab complex in Kenya.

DADAAB, Kenya August 28 (UNHCR) In a refugee complex the size of a small city, the largest election of its kind is nearing completion.

More than a third of the 400,000 refugees living in the Dadaab site in Kenya have registered to vote for the 1,002 candidates running for leadership positions. These include camp leaders, section leaders and block leaders with each position being filled by one male and one female. Voting, which began on Monday, is being staggered across the five camps that make up Dadaab and will conclude on Thursday.

Large crowds have been assembling outside of polling stations every day and voting hours have had to be extended in some places to give everyone the chance to cast their ballot. Some 60% of those registered to vote have already done so, a marked improvement over the 25% voter turnout that occurred during the previous elections held in 2006.

Sheikh, 53, has been living in Dadaab since 1991 and like most of the refugees here fled conflict in neighbouring Somalia. He says he is happy with the way the elections have been conducted, adding that the orderly process reminds him of his former life, before Somalia was thrown into anarchy. "Even if my candidate doesn't win, I'll accept the verdict of the people," he says. "In every election there will always be a winner and a loser."

The organization of this monumental exercise in democracy has been led by Kenya's Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) with the support of the UN refugee agency and other humanitarian organizations. "For us to be able to access the refugee communities and resolve their problems, it's very important that we have the leadership structured in a legitimate manner," says Patrick Musango, head of the DRA in Dadaab. "We expect these leaders to assist us in delivering humanitarian assistance, maintaining security, and generally implementing the rule of law."

Thirty two year-old Nasteho says she expects the winning candidates to champion refugees' rights, including better education, health care and livelihoods as well as improved security in the camps. She did not vote in the last elections because she had no faith in the process, but this time she says she feels differently. Her desire is that her son is able to grow up having experienced two important things: education and democracy.

Hussein took part in the polling in the hope that that the new leaders will push for scholarships and employment opportunities for young refugees. The twenty four year-old was a toddler when his family fled Somalia, and like many young refugees in Dadaab, he considers Kenya his home country.

Empowering those living in the world's largest refugee site to manage their own affairs to the greatest extent possible is crucial for the dignity of the community and for ensuring smooth service delivery. The elected leaders will be involved in decision making on community issues while facilitating and supporting the work of humanitarian agencies operating in Dadaab. Their work is completely voluntary and they are not paid a salary.

"We are hopeful these elections will result in legitimacy and community ownership in refugee management, including camp security," says Ahmed Warsame, UNHCR's head of operations in Dadaab. "It is particularly encouraging to see a new generation of leaders who are younger and better educated than their predecessors engaged in the process."

By Assadullah Nasrullah and Duke Mwancha in Dadaab




UNHCR country pages

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Over the weekend, UNHCR with the help of the US military began an emergency airdrop of some 200 tonnes of relief supplies for thousands of refugees badly hit by massive flooding in the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya.

In a spectacular sight, 16 tonnes of plastic sheeting, mosquito nets, tents and blankets, were dropped on each run from the C-130 transport plane onto a site cleared of animals and people. Refugees loaded the supplies on trucks to take to the camps.

Dadaab, a three-camp complex hosting some 160,000 refugees, mainly from Somalia, has been cut off from the world for a month by heavy rains that washed away the road connecting the remote camps to the Kenyan capital, Nairobi. Air transport is the only way to get supplies into the camps.

UNHCR has moved 7,000 refugees from Ifo camp, worst affected by the flooding, to Hagadera camp, some 20 km away. A further 7,000 refugees have been moved to higher ground at a new site, called Ifo 2.

Posted in December 2006

Flood Airdrop in Kenya

Running out of space: Somali refugees in Kenya

The three camps at Dadaab, which were designed for 90,000 people, now have a population of about 250,000 Somali civilians, making it one of the world's largest and most congested refugee sites. UNHCR fears tens of thousands more will arrive throughout 2009 in this remote corner of north-east Kenya as the situation in their troubled country deteriorates further.

Resources, such as food and water, have been stretched dangerously thin in the overcrowded camps, with sometimes 400 families sharing one tap. There is no room to erect additional tents and the new arrivals are forced to share already crowded shelters with other refugees.

In early 2009, the Kenyan government agreed to allocate more land at Dadaab to accommodate some 50,000 refugees. View photos showing conditions in Dadaab in December 2008.

Running out of space: Somali refugees in Kenya

Dire Times in Dadaab

Angelina Jolie's visit to Dadaab in north-east Kenya puts a spotlight on the overcrowded camp complex, home to tens of thousands of refugees.

When UNHCR Goodwill Ambassador Angelina Jolie visited Dadaab in north-east Kenya on September 12, 2009, she saw first-hand some of the tough conditions that tens of thousands of refugees must live in. The overcrowded three-camp complex is home to more than 285,000 mainly Somali refugees, making it the largest refugee settlement in the world. The camps were established in the early 1990s and were intended for a maximum of 90,000 people. Up to 7,000 people are now arriving every month to escape continuing conflict in Somalia. Jolie talked to residents about their daily life and their exile. These images show her meetings with the refugees of Dadaab and show some of the conditions they live in. Aside from overcrowding, they face water shortages, crammed classrooms, health problems, the coming rainy season and a range of other difficulties. UNHCR hopes new land will be allocated soon for the new arrivals.

Dire Times in Dadaab

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