Interview with Director of LWF World Service
GENEVA, 29 July 2011 (LWI) – The director of the LWF Department for World Service (DWS), Rev. Eberhard Hitzler, will be on a fact-finding tour in Kenya from 31 July to 3 August, along with representatives of LWF member churches and the LWF General Secretary. The main stopover will be at the world’s biggest refugee camp, Dadaab, in the northeast of the country.
Lutheran World Information (LWI) spoke to Hitzler about the situation of the refugees, problems in delivering the aid and logistic challenges.
Rev. Hitzler, what is the reason for your trip to Kenya and the Dadaab refugee camp?
We want to see the situation on the ground with our own eyes. Our member churches have shown enormous solidarity in supporting the people at the Horn of Africa. Then we want to say thank you for the readiness of the Kenyans to take so many refugees, who have been fleeing hunger and violence for years and have found shelter in Kenya. The world’s biggest refugee camp has been in existence in Kenya for over 20 years now. And the LWF has run the Dadaab and Kakuma camps for years, on behalf of the UNHCR.
How do Kenyans manage to take in so many refugees in addition to their own population that is also suffering from the drought?
There is huge solidarity among people in Africa. They help because help is necessary. Naturally the refugees are mainly coming from Somalia at present. But in Ethiopia, too, we currently have over 120,000 refugees, and for decades we had hundreds of thousands in the Kakuma camp, who had fled from the civil war in Sudan.
What is the situation like in Somalia now?
The situation is confused. Assistance should really be given in Somalia directly. But the Al Shabaab militia won’t let the UN or NGOs into the country. So, for security reasons we can’t give any aid inside the country itself. We are most grateful that there is now an airlift to the Somali capital. But it is extremely expensive to distribute food by air and it does not always reach those in the rural areas who need it most.
What are the more long-term prospects like?
That is something we want to talk about with the Kenyan government, as it is an essential point. The goal is for the refugees to be able to return to their homes again. That will mean ending the violence and lawlessness in Somalia itself. Only then will there be any hope of their returning. And until that is possible we will stay and provide for people in camps. Besides supplying them with food and water we are also responsible for security there. Just imagine, there are 400,000 people–that is a big city needing to be administered and organized.
Coordinating social workers is also part of our job. So that children and young people do not get up to mischief we keep them busy: football games, school classes and other activities.
How do you cope with such a huge challenge?
We have gained a lot of experience in this field over many years. That is why we are always commissioned to take on such projects by the UN. We have roughly 120 staff members of our own, who have been professionally trained and have a lot of experience. And in addition we have gained the services of about 500 refugees.
We have to ensure that there is enough firewood for cooking in an area that does not have this wood. We have to arrange for medical care, which is enormously important in view of the poor health of many of the newcomers. Registering new arrivals, putting up tents, setting up toilets–all that has to be planned. And we do things in good, close cooperation with other NGOs and the UN.
How are the donations going?
We are grateful that so many donations have come in. They are urgently needed, whether great or small. Another good thing is that our member churches support us, even those that do not have much themselves. The church aid agencies are big donors, and without their support we could not work so effectively. The UN agencies help us as well, and there are other donations.
It does not make things any easier that not just Somalia and Kenya are hard hit by the emergency, but also large parts of Ethiopia, areas of Sudan and Uganda. And we want to plan for the long term and give the farmers hope for the future, for example, by helping them to build up their flocks and herds, which have practically been wiped out, and thus to start again when the drought is over.