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Refugee camp operations paralysed as residents protest over jobs

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By ABDIMALIK HAJIR

Business in Dadaab Sub-County was paralysed for the better part of Monday morning after hundreds of residents took to the streets in a protest against humanitarian agencies.

The angry residents were demonstrating against what they claimed were dismissals of local employees by the relief agencies.

The protesters, who carried placards while denouncing the World Food Programme (WFP), marched towards the gate of the UNHCR regional headquarters and camped there for several hours.

Operations at the country’s biggest refugee camp, the Dadaab camp, were paralysed, with no vehicles allowed into or out of the area.

Security officers in full riot gear were called in after the demonstrations almost turned ugly as the protesters moved towards the main gate of the UNHCR compound.

The more than 500 protesters claimed the WFP had terminated the contracts of 13 people from the local community replacing them with those from other parts of the country.

There was drama at some point when one of the agency’s vehicles attempted to enter the UNHCR compound, and the driver was roughed up by the angry protesters.

“The reason we came out is to express our displeasure. As locals, we feel aggrieved that (the) World Food Programme has sacked our youth who were working for them. We think as a host community we have a right to get employment from these agencies,” said Ms Kin Mohamed Gedi.

HOST COMMUNITY

The protesters said that as the host community, they take care of the UN agencies, its employees and the refugees from neighbouring war-torn Somalia including providing for their security.

In return, they said they expected their youth to get employed, among other benefits.

Following Monday‘s demonstrations, all operations of UN agencies were stopped, including the monthly distribution of food to the refugees in the camps.

Locals also accused World Vision of discriminating against their neighbours from Fafi constituency.

They at the same time called on the government to intervene, saying the problem, if not properly handled, could cause clan conflicts in an area prone to such conflicts.

“People who were working for World Vision in Hagadera were sacked and replaced by others from Fafi, this will bring a lot of problems because we think the agencies may cause clan animosity in the county,” Daud Adhan, a youth leader, told journalists.

However, when contacted, the head of operations for the WFP, Ms Louis Sowe, said the agency recruits its employees without discrimination.

She said they followed international guidelines when recruiting and claims of bias by the local communities were untrue.

“We work closely with the local communities in the area, we don’t discriminate against anyone on the basis of their gender, race or any other criteria. The WFP has undergone global changes and this office doesn’t have control over some issues,” she said.