Kenya: Where is home?
20 June 2011

Children with hearing impairments during a lesson about body hygiene, carried out by the mental health programme in Kakuma refugee camp, Kenya. (Angelika Mendes/JRS)
I live in the same way that I have always lived here, as a refugee, born as a refugee, struggling with limited ability and rights to make decisions about my future, waiting to move on for so many years, not at home and at home at the same time.
Kakuma, 20 June 2011 – Kakuma refugee camp in north-west Kenya was set up in 1992 to host refugees fleeing civil war in Sudan. Today, it hosts more than 78,000 refugees from 11 different African nations. Somalis and Sudanese form the majority but the third largest group are refugees from Ethiopia. More than 5,000 live in the camp, and many have been there for more than 15 years. Hanna* is one of them; she shares her thoughts on life in the camp and her hope for the future.

I am a 20 year old refugee woman from Ethiopia. I have lived in Kakuma refugee camp for the past 18 years, together with my family. Because of political repression and persecution my parents were forced to flee Ethiopia 20 years ago. At the time of their flight my mother was pregnant with me and she always tells me that it is not clear if I was born in Ethiopia or in Kenya.

My family and I were among the first people arriving at Kakuma refugee camp. For the past 18 years, we were given the basics to survive in the camp: shelter, food, water and security. The price for this support is that I am not able to decide many things regarding my life on my own. 

Various aid organisations take care of us. The UN refugee agency decides where we will go. I do not know what will happen with my life or if there is a chance to be resettled to a third country. 

Sometimes I struggle with this uncertainty, sometimes I lose hope in a better future, and sometimes I feel like giving up because, as a refugee, I can’t go where I want to go. But if one day I will leave the camp, I want to decide about my future.
 
Having spent almost all my life here in Kakuma, I am not sure which place I should call home and which country I should call my homeland. All I know about my home country is what my parents tell me. I don’t have my own memories. It feels like Ethiopia is my homeland and Kakuma refugee camp is my home.

Two years back I started working with JRS as an assistant in the mental health care programme. Through this work I gained a lot of knowledge about people with disabilities and mental illnesses. It is a constant source of hope to find myself capable to support some of my most vulnerable fellow refugees. I really enjoy working with them.

There are some questions I always ask myself: What will happen in my life in the next years? Will anything change soon? How would my life change if I was resettled to a third country? Would there be a better future waiting for me? 

Since I can remember, life has not changed much in the camp. I live in the same way that I have always lived here, as a refugee, born as a refugee, struggling with limited ability and rights to make decisions about my future, waiting to move on for so many years, not at home and at home at the same time. I think everywhere I go I will always be reminded that I am a refugee. 


*not her real name