Dadaab is considered the biggest refugee camp in the world. Kenya wants to close the camp and repatriate the refugees to Somalia. Blogger Brownkey Abdullahi was born in Dadaab. She says she won't go back voluntarily.
Imagine being born and raised as a refugee, living in a camp that is bigger than most of the cities within the whole country. Imagine living with hundreds of thousands of people around who have fled from war or drought. And imagine not even being able to define what "home" really means to you.
For 24-year-old blogger Brownkey Abdullahi, this has been the reality. Her parents fled Somalia in 1991 after the fall of President Siad Barre which led the country into a civil war. Brownkey's parents sought refuge in Kenya's Dadaab camp where she was later born. "My nationality is refugee," she says. "I am neither Somali by nationality, nor Kenyan. That's why I call myself 'Dadaabian.' I was born and raised here, it's the only home I know right now."
First female blogger in Dadaab
In Dadaab, Brownkey went to school. At the tender age of three, she was the youngest schoolgirl at that time, she proudly says. She always worked hard to learn and study.
In 2016, she started her own blog, becoming the first female blogger in Dadaab. In her blog, Brownkey advocates against female gentile mutilation, engages for the empowerment of the rights of women and writes about the daily life in the vast refugee camp. She acknowledges that not everybody likes her criticism of the traditional values.
"Some people tell me: You came with western ideology, you started a bad thing, Brownkey, why don't you stop? It's not good for your security,'' she says. "But I am doing something for my community. I am the voice of the young girls who are voiceless in our community. I don't care what people say about me or the actions they take to stop my dream."
But that's not the only challenge Brownkey faces. In 2016, after several terrorist attacks in Kenya, the Kenyan government announced the closure of Dadaab.
The government views the refugee camp as a breeding ground for terrorists. Nairobi has twice postponed the closing date after pressure from the international community. However, President Uhuru Kenyatta has vowed to shut down the camp by the end of May 2017. Nearly 300,000 Somali refugees would have to return to their home country - a place that still faces major security challenges and can not be described as being safe at all - especially due to the persistent threat of the Islamist militant group al-Shabab.
Refugees worries and concerns
"People are talking about the camp closure and they are so worried about the future they are going to have," Brownkey says. "There are a lot of people that were away from Somalia for the last 25 years. They can't even remember exactly the village they were living and how things were, because the place was taken over by war," she adds.
According to a recent survey by the United Nations, 75 percent of the Somali refugees don't want to return to their home country. A repatriation agreement says they can not be forced to leave the camp. But the Kenyan government is trying to persuade as many as possible and the UN is also giving out a cash grant of about $400 (381 euros) to anyone who wishes to leave Dadaab voluntarily.
The conditions in the camp have become worse since international donors cut their funding due to the announcement of the closure. Many shop owners have stopped doing business and the food rations have been halved. "They are claiming, there is no budget for 2017 for the refugees in Dadaab," Brownkey says. "They gave food twice a month, but now they do it only once a month."
According to the international non governmental organization, Care, in 2016, only 30,000 refugees went back to Somalia voluntarily. Many of them have since returned to Dadaab. "When you ask them: You went to your country, why did you come back? They will tell you, there is no country. Because the country is a war zone where you can not stay. They say, there is no education, no freedom of movement and no free medical treatment," Brownkey says. "They are saying: Dear people of Dadaab: Kindly stay where you are right now."
Somalia still not safe
Dadaab is run by the UN refugee agency UNHCR. Officials of the UNHCR Somalia office in Nairobi are doing their best to calm the fears when asked about the impact of closing Dadaab. "Somalia is facing some difficulties at the security level. We all know this," Julien Navier, external relations officer says. "What we do want to do is to work in a collaborative manner, in order to be sure that once these people arrive in their area of interest, they are provided with enough safety and security."
But it is highly doubtful whether Somalia will be able to solve these "security difficulties" within the next five months. Therefore, it seems probable that the closing date will once again be postponed. "We are open to re-discuss and renegotiate what will happen after May 2017," Navier says.
Living in a refugee camp for 25 years is not a sustainable solution. People feel like they are "prisoners in an open prison," as Brownkey describes. But at least, Dadaab is a more or less safer place than Somalia, children can go to school, and boys don’t have to fear being forcibly recruited by terrorist organizations.
Brownkey herself has a clear stance. "I am not planning to voluntarily go back to Somalia, unless I am forced and told to leave the camp."