Tension in Kakuma as refugees protest reduced food ration

Some of the refugees flee the Kakuma camp after clashing over food and water. [Bakari Ang'ela, Standard]

Tension remained high in the Kakuma refugee camp in the Turkana West sub-county following protests over the reduction of food rations.

Hundreds of refugees protested the move by the World Food Programme (WFP) to reduce the food ratio, which they said had exposed thousands of families to hunger.

The refugees took to the streets for the second time yesterday, paralyzing the transport system along the Kakuma, Kalobeyei and Lokichoggio road, demanding the UNHCR rescind the decision.

A refugee who spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of victimisation said families were starving at the camp after the reduction of food ratio.

"Our families are starving. Even our children sleep hungry for days without food. It has become hard for us to fend for our families due to lack of food," a refugee said.

They claimed that the ratio was reduced by almost 80 per cent from what they used to receive, saying the small family size gets only 1 kg per month of relief food.

The refugees claimed that the reduction of food has also led to inter-community conflicts within the Kakuma refugee camp as they scramble for survival.

However, the WFP introduced a stipend to replace food donations.

But dozens of refugees are unhappy with the decision of being given cash instead of relief food.

In a protest letter dated April 18, 2024, and addressed to the WFP seen by The Standard, the Kalobeyei Settlement Appeal Committee (KSAC) accused WFP of neglecting them.

Through the KSAC chairman Osman Mohammed, the committee lamented that the WFP had reduced Bamba Chakula and Bamba Chapaa from Sh2,000 to Sh1,050.

Other grievances include the suspension of Bamba sabuni, Bamba firewood, Bamba Always and Bamba porridge.

“Therefore, the reduction of food items in the camp has caused much suffering for the refugee communities. We request WFP to find an amicable solution to refugee welfare to avoid malnutrition and death in the camp,” the letter stated in part.

Mohammed also asked  WFP to dialogue with the appeal committee saying that they were opposed to forceful and mass repatriation and closure of the camp.

They also demanded that the government and the WFP agency open up resettlement opportunities for the refugees and increase slots from one percent to 10 per cent.

The appeal committee also wants WFP to fast-track the implementation of the ‘SIRIKA’ planning and integration programme.

The refugees have given WFP 72 hours to address their grievances, failure to which they will boycott various refugee programmes.

There have been concerns that several refugees have been allegedly dying by suicide in the camp due to hard times. WFP has also raised alarm over the increased crime rate within the refugee communities.

However, the Kakuma Refugee camp manager Edwin Chabari confirmed that the ongoing protest was a result of the reduction of food ratio.

The camps host an estimated 300,000 refugee population, mostly Somalis, South Sudanese, Rwandees and Ethiopians, among others. 

Chabari said it was not the wish of WFP to reduce food ratio, as the donors were facing a global cash crunch that was affecting support of some programmes.

“The global crisis has financially affected donors, and it has destabilized the flow of aid, thus affecting funding for several refugee programmes. Donors are also facing a financial burden,” Chabari said.

He said Bamba chakula, which used to provide a Sh450 monthly stipend for the refugees was scrapped, while Kalobeyei settlement funds were reduced from Sh1,350 to Sh 1,050 per month.

“I urge the refugees not to blame the WFP for the reduction of aid. It's because they don’t have enough. But other programmes such as the WASH programme, water and sanitation remain intact. The refugee should know that everybody is suffering, including even the host community,” he said.

The camp manager said they were also managing new arrivals by providing them with blankets, soap, nets and tents.

He said a consultant was working to complete the Refugee integration programme, which was expected to be rolled out in a few months.

A validation process will provide a clear legal framework for refugees to integrate with host communities around them.

The camp manager said there had been an increase in insecurity in the refugee camp, where some suspected criminals were targeting shops within the camp to steal foodstuff and mobile phones.

He encourages the refugees who have been issued with identity cards to apply for business loans offered by some NGOs instead of depending on donor aid.