A group of Burundi dancers entertain the guests during the World Refugee Day 2013 commemoration at the University of Nairobi grounds in Nairobi, Kenya. (Joseph Waweru/JRS)
Nairobi, 20 June 2013 - The canopy of white tents glistened against the metal gray sky from the chilly early morning drizzle that engulfed the University of Nairobi graduation grounds, the venue of the World Refugee Day (WRD) 2013 commemoration. An army of humanitarian workers scurried around the tents that had been arranged in a neat 'U' formation, putting finishing touches to the displays that had been set up by various humanitarian organisations.

Refugees, humanitarian workers, Government officials and other well wishers gathered on Wednesday 20th June 2013 to commemorate this year's WRD against a backdrop of uncertainty regarding the future of Somali refugees in Kenya following recent pronouncements that the Government of Kenya is considering relocating them from the country. According to the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), there are currently over 700,000 registered refugees and asylum seekers living in Kenya, of whom approximately 500,000 are Somalis.

People could be seen blowing hot breath into their clasped hands in a bid to generate some heat to escape from the Nairobi chill. Different coloured banners were prominently displayed by the various agencies who work with refugees in Nairobi. At one corner of the ground, the Sangwe Amahoro Burundi drummers were warming up their drums with a throbbing beat that reverberated across the whole square. In another corner of the square, brightly dressed dance troupes from different refugee communities made last minute rehearsals in preparation for the big day.

The JRS tent proved to be a major attraction for many people attending the ceremony as they came to see the various products displayed by refugees. The products ranged from hand woven mats, African print material bags to a homemade Eritrean cake. The display also included some of the publications that had been produced by JRS Eastern Africa.

Issues affecting refugees. Speaking during the World Refugee Day commemoration in Nairobi, the acting Commissioner for Refugee Affairs Mr. Badu Katelo, who was the guest of honour, allayed fears that the Government of Kenya wants to forcibly repatriate Somali refugees. Katelo reassured refugees living in Kenya that the planned relocation of Somali refugees from the country will be voluntary and done in a humane way. The commissioner acknowledged the huge burden borne by Kenya in hosting such a large number of refugees.

"The Government is going to hold talks with the United Nations and the Government of Somalia on the relocation", said Katelo in his address. He made a passionate appeal to Kenyans to be hospitable to refugees saying, "Anyone can be a refugee. Even Jesus and Albert Einstein were refugees." Katelo called on refugees in Kenya to live in peace urging them to co-exist with Kenyans so that when they go back home, they will be able to live peacefully. "I would also like to laud the work of humanitarian agencies in serving refugees", further said the guest of honour.

Speaking at the function, the refugee's representative Ms. Farhiya Shazz Hussein thanked Kenyans for hosting refugees. "I am proud of being a refugee", she declared to the applause of those present. Hussein also commended the work of humanitarian agencies who were serving refugees in Kenya. Refugee community leaders and community based organizations that had rendered exceptional service to refugees were also feted during the celebration.

Celebrating cultural diversity. The day would not have been complete without entertainment from various refugee groups - from Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somali. The performances had the audience on their feet trying to catch a glimpse of some of the intricate dances by the entertainment groups.

The day had kicked off with an opening prayer by Fr. Deogratias Rwezaura, SJ the JRS Eastern Africa Regional Director. Fr. Rwezaura prayed for the families that had been torn apart by armed conflict going on in the world and in Africa. "As we gather to commemorate and with some of the refugees gathered here this morning, help us to be attentive to their messages, to their needs, to their aspirations, to their hopes and to their dreams…." prayed Fr. Rwezaura. He concluded by praying for people to be more hospitable, truly loving and caring towards refugees as one large human family.

As the curtains drew on the WRD commemoration the theme for the year 'one family torn apart by war is too many' was a stack reminder that during conflict, the family unit was constantly under threat of being torn apart.

By Charles Njanga, JRS Eastern Africa Regional Communications Officer

In Nairobi, JRS provides a range of services to new arrivals, asylum seekers and refugees in the most vulnerable circumstances. These services include emergency food and medical assistance, assistance with rent payment, provision of basic non-food items, support for income generation activities, pastoral and psychosocial accompaniment, and educational scholarships for the children of vulnerable refugees. In addition, JRS runs the Mikono Shop based at the Nairobi office, which provides an outlet for refugees to sell and market their handicrafts.

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