Kenya’s refugee reporters

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Kenya’s refugee reporters KenyaRefu-H-518.jpg

Sally Hayden writes about refugees in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya. They run an independent newspaper.

In Kakuma refugee camp, northwest Kenya, Tolossa Asrat is a journalist. He is reporting on a murder. He gets on a motorbike taxi and he rides through the dusty roads between tents and shelters and arrives at the home of a witness.

The witness says he was in a group of refugees on their way home after raising money for their church. Some men attached them. He thinks they were from the local Turkana community. Everyone ran away but later they realized one of their group was dead.

Asrat is the editor of Kanere (, short for Kakuma News Reflector. It is the only independent newspaper in the camp and refugees run it. The Kanere journalists write about local disputes and corruption, complaints against the UN Refugee Agency and NGOs, and policies that affect Kakuma. The camp was started in 1992 and now has more than 180,000 refugees.

‘We need more than food,’ Asrat says. He came here from Ethiopia. ‘We want to talk about our ideas and opinions so that people can hear us.’ He leads a team of nine, including Somalis, Sudanese, Congolese, and Ugandans. They are all volunteers and they work when they can. There are many changes in the volunteers. Some volunteers move to other countries, others leave because they are worried about problems from the camp authorities.

Okello Omot is 24 and he started working with Kanere as a teenager. He arrived in Kakuma aged 11, after his parents died and his brother was arrested in Ethiopia.

For a long time, Okello says, he had no friends. ‘When I was ill, there was no-one to take me to hospital,’ he says. He joined a journalism club at school in the camp, and later he met the rest of the Kanere journalists. ‘I realized that what they are doing is in my blood.’

There are challenges when you are reporting in a refugee camp. When there is news, Okello sometimes doesn’t have enough money for transport or he has no phone credit to tell other volunteers. He’s also afraid of the police, who seem to have links with many of the crimes, including robberies and rapes.

‘It is very difficult to get accurate information,’ he says. ‘There are a lot of rumours. People are very frightened.’

Each evening, back in his own shelter, Asrat waits for the electricity to come on so he can begin to type up the latest articles. Before, Kanere had just one old laptop, with an old battery. It only worked when plugged into a mains connection.

The newspaper now receives $22 a month from raising money online. They want to raise enough money for more volunteers and for some more women, who can report on new stories.

Asrat says he wants to speak to refugee journalists in camps across the world, who may be interested in starting newspapers.

‘As human beings, we don’t only need food, but we also need independent media – it’s important for a democratic society, including refugee camps.’


(This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed)