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New university campus in Kenya brings hope for young refugees

Dadaab in north-eastern Kenya is the world’s largest refugee camp and home to over 160,000 children.

Most are with families who have fled neighbouring Somalia. The camp was originally built to accommodate around 90,000 refugees. But in recent years numbers have swelled to nearly half a million, partly because of last year’s famine. The infrastructure struggles to cope and with poor sanitation, health experts warn about the threat of diseases such as cholera, particularly with the rainy season about to being.

According to agencies who work among the refugees, education is also a key need at the camp. More than 70% of Dadaab’s youngsters do not attend school and those who do take part in classes with over 100 students. Speaking to The Guardian, representatives of the agencies warn that the “lack of education and employment opportunities” is creating a whole generation of disenfranchised youth, who are ripe for recruiting into armed groups and banditry.

However, there is some good news coming out of this part of Kenya. Kenyatta University has announced it will be creating a new campus in Dadaab. Courses there will include subjects such as marketing, finance, project management and peace and conflict studies. As well as catering for young refugees, these will be open to locals of the remote town, which lies around 90 kilometres from the border with Somalia. The site was inaugurated last week and the first students will be enrolled in January. According to the head of operations for the UN’s Refugee Agency (UNHCR), it will be the first refugee site to offer tertiary education in the world.

UNHCR aims to forge additional partnerships with other universities, as well as to find donors who might sponsor scholarships for refugees. The hope is that with professional qualifications, young people from Dadaab will be able to contribute to Kenyan society and help rebuild their own country should they choose to return.

Despite the shortage of school spaces, Dadaab had over 5,000 school leavers last year. Previously, these students would have had to sign up for correspondence courses to continue with their education. Now with the new campus, there is somewhere they can study on their doorstep. One young man, Dirige, who helps teach younger children at the camp, plans to apply for a place. He speaks of the great need among the refugee students, who will now “get opportunities”.

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