6 months ago, 19 Dec 01:13
The day went by largely unnoticed, without a bang— no social media hashtags, no fuming journalists covering it—but it had the chance to change the lives of the nearly half a million refugees in Kenya, and in turn the country. The president declined a bill which, at the stroke of his pen, would have allowed any refugee in Kenya to apply for citizenship, if they wish, and enjoy all the rights that come with it. The bill, first tabled by the MP Agostinho Neto, granted refugee professionals work, families land, and children education, but our president turned it down anyway. Currently, a refugee, whether just given sanctuary or born here, must remain in one of the designated camps—Dadaab or Kakuma—and they are exempted from work. The bill provided for change, but Kenya was not ready. Why? You wonder. Every evening, beside an apartment in Eastleigh, a few chairs are arranged in circle with a table in the middle, and each of the men who come there that evening takes his place and orders for tea, which is served almost instantly. Only Ahmed’s cup without milk. Ibrahim, Abdi, and Ahmed come here regularly, and Sacdiyo, who runs the place, has since learned their names and a bit of their background. They always sit together, and if one of them is late, he must be called before the conversation begins. Their discussion runs uncharted and touches on many subjects —from science to politics to religion—but returns again and again to one place: Dadaab. This is perhaps what keeps them together. They are all from Dadaab. They are all refugees. Somehow, they have all managed to escape the camp and they now reside in Nairobi. They have something else in common, too. They all want to go away, out of Kenya to another country, a place where, as Ibrahim puts, “I can do something with myself.” When they cannot meet, they chat online. Ahmed was the first of the men to come to Nairobi in 2012, immediately after high school. He quickly found a job at a restaurant, which allowed him to support his family back home. He is the firstborn in his family, and the first to escape the refugee camp, so he was painfully aware of his responsibility and he worked hard. “I put in all the effort,” he remembers, “Really, I was lucky to find a job. Unlike now, they did not ask for my ID then; I was only asked if I would work hard, and I promised to.” Ahmed returns to Dadaab intermittently to visit family, and it’s always difficult, because you have to produce your Kenyan ID while returning, or you are detained and denied entry. “This is the worst thing about being a refugee, you know,” Ahmed says, visibly angry. “You do not have papers. Even your employer pays you less than the others once he finds out you are a refugee.” Ahmed waited tables for the first two years, and in 2014, he was ...
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