Nurturing hope for displaced populations and host communities in Kenya
The buzzing, dusty streets of Kakuma have always been a hub of activity. Located in the heart of Turkana County, the sprawling refugee camp is home to thousands of individuals who have sought shelter from war, conflict, and persecution. Its residents have seen better days but hold on to hope.
As the scorching sun relentlessly beats down, casting its golden rays upon the arid landscape, people from diverse backgrounds and cultures move through the streets, their resilience and hope shining through their weary eyes. Men, women, and children intermingle, their steps forging an invisible bond that transcends their differences.
Amidst the backdrop of makeshift shelters and bustling market stalls, Justin Arike Abraham, the sole proprietor of Mandela Vision Tailoring shop, goes about his daily routine at his establishment. Justin, a refugee from South Sudan, started the business in 2009 in the Dadaab camp and later moved to Kakuma in 2015, where he continued with the same business. Over the years, the enterprise has grown from a single tailor with one machine operating in a leased space to four full-time employees and a wholesale sewing materials and equipment distributor.
Mandela Vision Tailoring Shop is one of many businesses in Kakuma Kalobeyei run by refugees and the host community. To support entrepreneurs like Justin to grow and create jobs, AECF (Africa Enterprise Challenge Fund), through the Kakuma Kalobeyei Challenge Fund (KKCF), is harnessing the potential of refugees as agents of positive change, enabling them to rebuild their lives and contribute to the social, cultural, and economic fabric of Turkana County. The five-year program, a partnership with the International Finance Corporation (IFC), is designed to unlock refugees’ and hosts’ economic potential by increasing private sector investments. It aims at enabling better economic integration and self-reliance for displaced populations and their host community.
Globally, 100 million people have been forcibly displaced, according to the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR). Among them are approximately 32 million refugees. The global refugee crisis remains one of the most pressing humanitarian challenges of our time. The consequences of this crisis are far-reaching and affect the individuals and families directly involved and the countries and regions that host them.
World Refugee Day is a poignant reminder to embrace hope and work together to create a brighter future for those forced to seek refuge. Today, the number of displaced persons has reached unprecedented levels. Conflict and persecution have uprooted millions, leaving them in a state of uncertainty and vulnerability. Additionally, the impact of climate change is increasingly driving people from their homes, leading to a rise in climate refugees. However, behind the statistics lie individual stories of loss, resilience, and hope. We must acknowledge refugees’ hardships, recognize their humanity, and offer unwavering support.
Kenya is home to 580,792 registered refugees and asylum-seekers. Kakuma Refugee Camp, one of the largest refugee camps in the world, hosts 44 percent of this population – primarily citizens of South Sudan and Somalia. Over the years, the camp has faced numerous challenges, including limited resources and overcrowding. Despite these challenges, it is essential to recognize the potential of refugees and provide them with the necessary resources and opportunities to rebuild their lives and positively contribute to their host communities. Whereas the humanitarian needs of these refugees are catered for, their aspirations are not being served, and that is where private funding steps in to address their challenges by adopting inclusive solutions that include financial and non-financial investment to support their well-being, livelihoods, and integration.
The theme for World Refugee Day 2023, “hope away from home,” highlights the importance of providing support and opportunities for refugees to rebuild their lives, regain their dignity, and contribute to their host communities. It underscores the notion that refugees should not be seen merely as victims but as individuals with skills, talents, and aspirations.
We must advocate for increased support to countries hosting large refugee populations, ensuring they have the resources to provide essential services such as education, healthcare, and livelihood opportunities. Additionally, we should encourage the integration of refugees into host communities, fostering social cohesion and empowering them to rebuild their lives. By providing a supportive environment, these communities enable refugees to contribute to their new societies and rebuild their lives. The 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol provide the legal framework for protecting the rights of refugees and ensuring their safety. As a global community, we should commit to honoring these obligations and supporting countries hosting many refugees.
AECF manages KKCF’s Competitive Business Challenge, which supports various businesses contributing to income generation, providing goods and services, job creation, and improving living standards in both the camp and community. KKCF operates three funding windows: the Private Sector Window (PSW), which focuses on private sector companies; the Social Enterprise Window (SEW), which targets social enterprises; and the Local Enterprise Development (LED) Window, which provides financial support and technical assistance to local enterprises from the refugee and host communities.
The Competitive Business Challenge has awarded funding to 40 companies representing different sectors, including energy, health, agribusiness, financial services, construction, education, media, and light manufacturing. Each company has received grants and technical support to expand into the area, unlocking the economic potential of the host and refugee communities. They have created hundreds of jobs and invested more than $2 million of their capital to establish and expand their operations in Turkana County.
According to the IFC’s Kakuma as a Marketplace Report, Kakuma’s multitude of shops, traders, and daily economic activity indicate that the camp and town present a significant market. The study estimated the total consumption to be $56 million, with the camp contributing 29 percent ($16.5 million). This market hub is ripe with potential from refugees and the host community.
Women and youth constitute a significant proportion of the refugee population in Kakuma and often face unique challenges and vulnerabilities. Through the LED Window, we prioritize their empowerment, ensuring access to financial services, healthcare, and economic opportunities. Linet Ngutuku, the owner of Kalobeyei Main Medical Center, is among the growing number of women entrepreneurs operating in Kakuma Refugee Camp. Through KKCF’s support, she has expanded her business to offer a broader range of medical services to the camp’s residents and employ more staff. By investing in the refugees and host communities, we uphold their rights and enhance their overall resilience and development.
The plight of refugees is a global concern that demands urgent attention and action. By understanding the causes, challenges, and contributions of refugees, we can work towards fostering empathy, dispelling misconceptions, and advocating for more inclusive policies.
This World Refugee Day, let us remember our shared humanity and responsibility towards those forced to flee their homes. It is a day to honor the resilience and courage of refugees and host communities and to reflect on our collective response to the global refugee crisis. By nurturing hope and offering opportunities, we transform the lives of refugees, enrich our communities, and build a more inclusive and compassionate world for all. Let us continue to stand together and work towards a future where refugees can flourish and thrive.