In honor of World Refugee Day, the U.S. Embassy of Djibouti visited one of Djibouti’s three refugee camps last week. Due to Djibouti’s location and ties to foreign governments, it accepts many refugees and those seeking asylum from Yemen, Kenya, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, and other locations. Although Djibouti’s economy struggles on its own, they continue to take in thousands. Djibouti has accepted 30,000 refugees since November of 2015 and continues to maintain 18,000 long-term refugees. They are spread across Ali Addeh, Hol Hol, and Markazi.
The United States does what it can to encourage safe and tolerable conditions for refugee camps, but Djibouti’s already intolerable living disposition creates many predicaments. The Norwegian Refugee Council, UNHCR, and the U.S. collaborated to find solar panels for the camp to increase energy availability and decrease costs.
Camp Lemonnier and the U.S. Embassy donated clothes and anything they could find to Ali Addeh. Many bought new clothes for the Eid holiday, the closing celebrations of Ramadan, so refugees would have something to wear for their holy day.
The visit to Ali Addeh, about a two hour drive south from Djibouti City, was quite an experience. The whole camp formed lines to see Ambassador Kelly. We listened as UNHCR spoke of needs at the camp, food and water scarcity, illness, and other common issues surrounding refugee camps.
The U.S. (and other nations) can only donate as much as funds are available outlined by the State Department and Congress. Although Djibouti is taking in thousands of refugees, the availability of food and water will only decrease as refugees offset economic development of Djibouti. Outlining cost benefit analysis of donations to refugees and those living in slums of Djibouti is eerily similar.
I say this because, although the U.S. debates its capacity to take in a few thousand refugees, I watch as a country with 850,000 people are taking in 30,000 people every 6 months. As we debate lowering the cost of taxes and financial aid, healthcare, people are escaping Yemen in hopes to find safe haven.
A young Djiboutian boy recently asked me if I have ever seen a poor person in America. I said, yes, I have.
But in retrospect, after seeing living conditions in Ali Addeh, maybe I haven’t.
Maybe I have now.