WASHINGTON (July 21, 1998) -- Following a recent visit to a Kenyan refugee camp, one U.S. Bishop is urging the international community to find durable solutions for the plight of refugees.
Bishop John Yanta of Amarillo (TX) called on the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the U.S. Department of State to pursue third country resettlement as a lasting solution, especially in situations where the only apparent alternative is for refugees to languish indefinitely in camps. Most of the 60,000 refugees at Kakuma camp in Kenya have been in refugee status for many years.
"The international community cannot allow itself to fall prey to 'compassion fatigue' in the face of such dire need," Bishop Yanta said.
Specifically, he urged the UNHCR and the U.S. Refugee Program (USRP) to give particular attention to the resettlement needs of unaccompanied minor refugees. Many of the young people in the Kakuma camp, located on the Kenya/Sudan border in Northern Kenya, were from the group known as the "lost boys of Sudan." Many have grown up wandering from refugee camp to refugee camp, constantly in danger of being conscripted into the Sudanese People's Liberation Army (SPLA).
"Consideration should be given by the UNHCR to recommending for resettlement in the United States those young people most at risk from the SPLA military round-ups," Bishop Yanta said.
In addition, some of the younger minors in this group should be considered for resettlement through the special unaccompanied minor programs available to assist them through the USRP.
Another issue affecting the refugee children is the limited funding for education in the Kakuma camp. A leader of the Sudanese refugees in the camp characterized the younger children as members of a "marginalized" generation because of the lack of education in the camp.
"Funds spent for the education of young refugees, which can help prepare them for a useful role when conditions permit their return home, are both important for the refugee children themselves and a very cost effective contribution toward the future economic development of the refugees' homelands," Bishop Yanta said.
In addition to his meetings with the UNHCR and representatives of other international organizations, Bishop Yanta visited and celebrated Mass with the pastoral team ministering to the needs of the 18,000 Catholics in the Kakuma camp. Three African priests, a religious brother from Tanzania, and a seminarian from India staff the seven churches and chapels in the camp.
Bishop Yanta, who is a member of the Migration Committee of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, visited Kakuma camp June 30 to July 2.