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 You are in: Under Secretary for Democracy and Global Affairs > Bureau of Population, Refugees, and Migration > Refugee Admissions and Resettlement > Releases > Reports > 2004
The United States Refugee Admissions Program: Reforms for a New Era of Refugee Resettlement  

Annex to Chapter 1. Resettlement of The Somali Bantu: A Case Study of Processing Complexity and Unforeseen Delays

The Somali Bantu are the descendants of southern Africans who were brought to East Africa some 200 years ago, largely as slaves. Although many eventually integrated to some extent with Somali society, a portion remained in destitution, held to menial labor and subjected to extensive discrimination. When the Somalian civil war broke out, many fled to Kenya, along with tens of thousands of other Somalis. The Somali Bantu remained the victims of discrimination, violence, and abuse, including rape, in the camps where they lived in northeastern Kenya near the town of Dadaab. Moreover, it was judged that they had no real prospects of a safe return to Somalia, even if more peaceful conditions could be established there for most of the population. The US decision in 1999 to designate the Bantu was based on an earlier UNHCR list, and it contemplated that UNHCR would undertake a careful verification of that list before other resettlement processing began. Verification plans took some time, particularly in the face of desperate efforts by other Somalis in the Dadaab camp to claim Bantu status or family connections. The additional planning and preparation time proved worthwhile, however, because a thorough verification was finally carried out in December 2001.47

In the meantime, UNHCR and USRP partners discussed other operational elements of the plan. Dadaab, a collection of camps in a part of Kenya marked by banditry, housed some 130,000 people, mostly non-Bantu Somalis. Although some initial processing had been done there, Dadaab was judged unsafe for the later stages, both because of resentment against the now-favored beneficiaries of resettlement and because of broader security risks to US government and NGO personnel there. PRM therefore decided to move the 11,000 Bantu to Kakuma camp in northwestern Kenya B a journey of 900 miles by bus convoy. Construction of new facilities in Kakuma cost over a million dollars and consumed many months (creating facilities that would remain useful for other activities in Kakuma even after the Bantu departed), and the move finally took place over the summer months of 2002.48 The first group of DHS officers was supposed to go to Kakuma in July, but that circuit ride was called off after the security situation suddenly deteriorated there, sparked to some extent by rumors and misunderstanding of the resettlement plans. NGO processing staff were evacuated, but returned not long after to prepare cases for a circuit ride that eventually took place in October 2002. The October processing was hampered by a dispute over the quality and possible corruption of interpreters, which was eventually resolved with a decision to use IOM-provided interpreters brought in from Nairobi. Several hundred cases were approved during that time, but post-approval processing was delayed, and almost none of these cases were able to travel to the United States over the following year. This lag necessitated a new round of security and medical clearances, because such clearances are good only for a limited period. In the meantime, DHS called off planned circuit rides in the winter and spring of 2003, owing to new security incidents and concerns. On several occasions, these problems cropped up just as a new DHS team was about to be dispatched from the United States. Even if those problems were resolved within a few weeks, the originally planned temporary-duty DHS team usually could not be put back together, because its membership was drawn from other units of DHS that could not keep those officers indefinitely available for refugee processing work. Hence it might take many more weeks or months to reassemble an interviewing team.

To respond to these heightened security problems at Kakuma, PRM eventually arranged with IOM and other partners to construct new fences and watchtowers. But natural disaster then piled on top of the usual security problems to cause further delay. In May 2003, unusually heavy rains brought flooding to Kakuma and forced the suspension of that work and of NGO processing. In July 2003 the embassy's regional security officer finally approved the bolstered facilities at Kakuma, and DHS circuit rides resumed in mid-August 2003 B too late to produce any significant movement of approved individuals to the United States in FY 2003.49 But resettlement has proceeded in significant volume in FY 2004.50

While all these efforts were under way in Kenya, the resettlement NGOs were beginning the process of allocating the previously approved cases to sponsors in the United States, using an approved plan for clustered resettlement in a limited number of U.S. communities. This approach was judged most likely to promote successful integration for a population that would have to overcome significant cultural and educational gaps. The lengthy delays, however, allowed for misunderstanding and resistance to grow in some of the U.S. destination communities, among people who were uncertain of what to expect and who sometimes gave public voice to fearful worst-case scenarios that were widely off the mark. These misunderstandings might have been squelched much earlier had those communities begun to receive actual refugees promptly. The cluster resettlement scheme had to undergo some painful readjustments and retreats as a result, although most of those plans remained intact and eventually have proved reasonably successful.51


47  See Andrew Hopkins, Report on the UNHCR P-2 Somali Bantu Verification Exercise in Dadaab (UNHCR report, 18 Feb. 2002).

48  A helpful account of the background and of many stages of the Bantu resettlement, particularly of the conditions at Dadaab and the hazards confronted in the move to Kakuma, appears in Sasha Chanoff, After Three Years: Somali Bantus Prepare to Come to America, Refugee Reports, Nov. 2002, at 1.

49  See Refugee Interviews to Resume in Kenya, U.S. Refugee Admission Program News, Sept 16, 2003, available at www.state.gov/g/prm/rls/other/24174.htm.

50  The account here draws on the cited public sources, plus information compiled from unclassified PRM documents.

51  See, e.g., Rick Hampson, In USA, Somali Refugees See a Reversal of Fortune, USA Today, Aug. 4, 2003, at 1A; Jay Rey, Brave New World: A Bantu Family from Somalia Has Found a New Beginning on the West Side; Its Arrival, However, Is Greeted in Some Circles with Suspicion and Resentment, Buffalo News, July 18, 2003, at A1; Candace Page, Bantu Find Jobs, Acceptance in Adopted Vermont Homes, Burlington Free Press, Mar. 22, 2004 at 1A.

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