Nairobi: Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai visited the world’s largest refugee camp on her 19th birthday Tuesday and voiced concern that Kenya’s plans to close it could create “a generation lost.” The government announced in May that it plans to close the camp in eastern Kenya near the Somali border by the end of the year, citing it as a security liability.
Malala said returning any of the more than 300,000 refugees to Somalia, which is still plagued by extremist violence, should be voluntary.
Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai celebrated her 19th birthday at Dadaab refugee camp and said girls need education and should not be expelled to Somalia.
Thousands of schoolgirls risk becoming a “lost generation” if the government closes the camp, the world’s largest, she said on Tuesday.
The Pakistani teenage education activist said refugee students will be forced to end their education, because there are “no good” schools in Somalia and South Sudan. Malala said most girls are married off to men in the war-torn Somalia. “If they do not go to school, they will get married at a very early age. That would have been my future, if I did not go to school,” she said.
Malala was in the camp, where she celebrated her 19th birthday. She asked the government to make the repatriation voluntary. “The problem is there aren’t enough schools in Somalia. They should not be forced to move,” she said. “The camp is to be closed down soon. I want to make sure these girls don’t become a lost generation. There should be alternative facilities so they can continue their education.”
Malala urged President Uhuru Kenyatta to take his time in deciding on the fate of the camp and take into consideration the need to provide education. Dadaab has existed for 25 years, and for many of the refugees there, the sprawling camp is the only home they have known. There are established houses for longtime residents, while newcomers make do with improvised huts of thorn branches and other materials.
Kenya has been plagued by numerous attacks from the Somali extremist group al-Shabab that have killed scores of people since 2011, when Kenya deployed troops to Somalia against the militants. The Kenyan government alleges that attacks were hatched in Dadaab. The al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab has vowed to continue attacking Kenya.
The outspoken advocate for the education of girls in her native Pakistan was shot in the head and severely wounded in 2012 by Taliban militants while returning home from school. For her courage, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2014.
By Mike O’mera