Failing States: Refugee Populations

While maintaining basic internal infrastructure can be a major difficulty in a failed state, the problems faced by a failed state can often affect its neighbors’ security as well. As this BBC article details, Kenya has been hosting Somali refugees since 1991 in the UN’s Dadaab refugee camp. The move to close the camp comes after a group of al-Shabab Somali militants attacked the Kenyan town of Garissa and killed over 100 students. The Kenyan government has suspected in the past that Dadaab was housing some of these Somali militants and are now calling for some 500,000 Somalis to return to Somalia.

This issue demonstrates a few problems: first is that the camp has been open since 1991, and some Somali families have been living there for over 20 years. While the article states that there are now some safe areas within Somalia in which the people can return to, the duration and size of this camp means that, in general, Somalis do not feel that it is safe or beneficial to return to Somalia. As progress is slow in Somalia, strain is placed on Kenya with the large refugee influx.

That strain is also placed on Kenya’s security; as Somali militants attack Kenyan cities and buildings, public fear is stirred against the Somali refugees, regardless of whether the militants actually live in Dadaab. The result is the Kenyan government closing itself off from Somalia in order to protect its people, domestic stability, and safety.

While this may protect Kenyan citizens, the measure creates other problems. First, there is the issue of relocating 500,000 Somalis back to Somalia, which does not have the infrastructure or security necessary to take these citizens back. Citizens returning to Somalia will have to find ways to live, and that could include turning to militant groups and only worsening Somalia’s security problems. Additionally, by isolating itself from Somalia, the already weak Somali government must deal with both security problems and attempt to provide basic needs and security for an additional 500,000 people when it is already incapable of doing so for its current population. This only further weakens the Somalia government and has the potential to draw out the conflict for a monopoly over violence even longer. The effect could be that it takes longer for the failed state to recover.

At the same time, Kenya has the right and duty to protect its own citizens from danger. Somali militants have threatened the safety of its people, and closing off Kenya from Somalis and closing Dadaab is potentially the most obvious solution. Kenya’s primary focus is on securing the country, even if it hurts relations with Somalia, and compares its securitization to the United States’ actions after 9/11. After several attacks, Kenya’s actions are not unfounded.

Somehow reconciliation between Kenyan security and housing a refugee population must be made, but the underlying issue of Somali security must be solved for a long-term solution. The situation demonstrates, though, that failed states are not dangerous just internally for their own citizens; they also pose serious threats to their neighbors that must be considered.

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