Nobel laureate Malala Yousafzai celebrated her 19th birthday on Tuesday by visiting the world’s largest refugee camp, expressing concern that Kenya’s plans to close Dadaab camp within the year could create “a generation lost.”
Malala was responding to the Kenyan government’s announcement in May that it plans to close Dadaab camp by the end of the year.
In an interview with The Associated Press, the teen-aged advocate for girls’ education said any returns of the more than 300,000 refugees to neighboring Somalia, which remains in the grip of extremist attacks, should be voluntary.
“They should not be forced to move,” she said. “As we all know the camp is going to be closed down soon, so I want to make sure that these girls don’t become a generation lost and there are alternative facilities for them to continue with their education.”
She warned if the camp closes and the girls move to Somalia where there are few schools the “girls will be without education. While here (in Dadaab camp) they have schools and they are getting their education.”
Malala urged Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to take his time in deciding on the camp closure and take into consideration the need to provide education to the girls.
Kenyatta has said repatriations from Dadaab, which has existed for a quarter-century, will be voluntary and done in a humane way. The international community has urged caution and warned against forceful evictions.
Many of Dadaab’s refugees have lived most if not all their lives in the sprawling camp, which is a vast settlement of established homes and newcomers’ improvised huts of thorn branches and other materials.
Malala explained that on each birthday she chooses a region where girls’ education is neglected and needs attention.“I am here to speak for my unheard sisters of Somalia striving for education every day,” she said.
Since last year, she has been in contact via Skype with a group of girls in Dadaab and had been looking forward to meeting them and others, said Taylor Royle, her spokesman.
Malala won the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize after militants shot her in 2012 while she was returning home from school in Pakistan, where she was an outspoken advocate for girls’ education in a highly conservative culture.