Last week we met with a young Somali client who told us that six members of her family, including her mother and five young siblings, have recently arrived in Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya. Our client explained the dire situation of insecurity, violence and malnourishment her family had fled from in Somalia and the ongoing challenge to survive even in the relative safety of the camp. She had not heard from her family for over three years until she located them in Dadaab.
This disturbing story has brought home the widespread suffering arising from the crisis in East Africa. We have all seen arresting images over recent days and the famine appeal donations are fortunately well under way.
What is often not considered despite the striking images of vast refugee camps is the so-called ‘refugee burden’. The reality is that the refugee population in the developing world is far greater than that in the developed world. It is countries like Kenya that are hosting huge numbers of desperate refugees relative to the small numbers that come to countries like Ireland (in 2010, we were hosting a total of around 9,000 refugees while Kenya was hosting over 400,000). There are often worrying misperceptions about the numbers of refugees arriving in Ireland and other European countries. In June 2011, UNHCR estimated that four fifths of the world’s refugees are being hosted by developing countries, such as Kenya and Pakistan.
For our own client, she has now been residing in Ireland for over three years, waiting for a decision on her case. As a young lone female Somali, we would argue that there is currently no prospect of her returning safely to her country, particularly in light of the recent decision of the ECJ in Sufi & Elmi v UK. Unfortunately, it is likely our client will wait several more years for a decision from the Department of Justice and this may be a negative decision. In the meantime, she must try to support and stay in contact with her family and hope for a more secure future for them all. While this client has been waiting three years, at lease one of our Somali clients has been waiting since mid 2005 for a determination of her application for family reunification. We would call on the Minister to prioritise Somali cases given the desperate humanitarian situation and the dire impact of these delays on applicants and their families.