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World

Kenya To Close World's Largest Refugee Camp At Dadaab

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

For years, the government of Kenya has been threatening to close the world's largest refugee camp. Dadaab is home to some 400,000 people. Now the threats to close the camp seem real. Human rights groups are ringing alarm bells. We want to know what this means for people who have grown up in the camp and may not have known any other home.

Aden Tarah arrived there when he was five years old. Like many of the people who live there, his family was escaping the civil war in Somalia. He says there's an entire generation of people in the camp who know their home country and the country that hosts them only through the media.

ADEN TARAH: Mostly 60 percent of the population are youth who have never seen parts of Kenya let alone seen Somalia

SHAPIRO: Sixty percent of Dadaab's population is young people who have never known any other home. Do people believe the threats to close the camp are real and they actually will have to leave?

TARAH: We, the youth, who have been living in the camp - we refer to Dadaab as an open prison.

SHAPIRO: An open prison, you say.

TARAH: Yeah. I said an open prison is because that, you know, living in a camp for 25 years, we have undergone through tremendous things, including stress, (unintelligible) dropped out of school. And the living standard is below the expectation of the people, of a human being.

And to come to the answer that the feelings of the people about the closure of Dadaab - it has become a shock to many. And people felt like the world had ignored them, especially Kenya, of which has been hosting them for the last 25 years. They feel like this is not the right time that the Kenyan government should tell them to go home.

SHAPIRO: If Dadaab is an open prison, would going to Somalia be better or worse?

TARAH: Parents, you know, feel like, you know - they might either join the two sides - either the government side by joining the military or the Al-Shabaab side

SHAPIRO: Of Course Al-Shabaab is a terrorist organization that is linked to al-Qaida that has caused tremendous upheaval in Somalia in the last few decades.

TARAH: And that will be a worst, you know, scenario for a parent.

SHAPIRO: So you're saying people have the fight on one side or the other. People can't go back and live in peace.

TARAH: Yeah because there's no other option in Somalia. Like, if you don't join the government, the government will, you know, suspect that you're a sympathizer of Al-Shabaab. If you don't join the Al-Shabaab, it is the same way because, you know, Al-Shabaab has no, you know - has no empathy for human existence.

What I know is, like - me as a journalist, what I have discovered, like - the people who had gone back, especially the youth that have gone back to Somalia are now running away, coming back to the camp, saying that they were forced to train Al-Shabaab.

SHAPIRO: In your life personally, what would it mean if you had to leave Dadaab camp?

TARAH: I think leaving Dadaab camp - you know, the first option will not be leaving Dadaab, Somalia, but if it means leaving Dadaab to other kinds of peaceful country or a place where we can work, a place where we can study, a place where we can live peacefully, then that will be OK.

But you know, it's not an option - going back to Somalia at this time. I'm not fearing for the, you know, fate of the elderly people. I fear for, you know, the well-being or the hope of this young generation joining Al-Shabaab.

SHAPIRO: Is there anything you would like to tell the government of Kenya that has decided to close this camp and send everyone back to the civil war in Somalia?

TARAH: First, you know, I would like to appreciate the Kenyan government of hosting us in the camp for the last 25 years. And me personally, I appreciate it because it is the Kenyan government made me who I am today. We understand we are a burden to the Kenyan government. Also, you know, we are living under the taxpayers of the Kenyan government.

We understand that the camp is not going to exist, you know, for life, but we understand that the situation in Somalia is not good. The situation in the camp's not good, that good, although it's better than Somalia. But what I would like to request the Kenyan government to give us - more time so that, you know, these people can either get a third country who can host them or the Somali government is going to be a peaceful country.

SHAPIRO: Aden Tarah, thank you very much for speaking with us.

TARAH: Thank You.

SHAPIRO: Aden Tarah is a resident of the world's largest refugee camp, Dadaab, which the government of Kenya has promised to close. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.