Tucked away in the arid North Eastern Province of Kenya is one of the largest and oldest refugee camp complexes in the world. Twenty-one years old, with a population of over 300,000, the Dadaab refugee camps (Ifo, Hagedera and Dagahaley) host refugees mainly from Somalia, but also from Burundi, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Sudan. Humanitarian agencies are under pressure not only to provide services to resident refugees, many of whom have lived in the camp complex for over 20 years, but also to address the needs of the approximately 1,000 refugees who continue to arrive from Somalia every month. They face a number of serious operational challenges: an enormous refugee population; a growing influx of new arrivals; camp congestion; overstretched financial and human capacities; and resentment from the host community. In addition, living in a perpetual state of refugee-hood has resulted in a prevailing sense of hopelessness and despondency among camp residents.
The HAP Roving Team
Despite its size and complexity, Dadaab receives little media attention. In 2010, the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) International deployed its Roving Team under its New Emergency Policy (NEP) to support interested agencies in undertaking collective action to promote accountability to disaster survivors and to highlight the ongoing humanitarian crisis in Dadaab. The underlying principle of an NEP deployment is collective effort, collaboration and reinforcement of the spirit of partnership. The location, duration and terms of reference of a deployment are collectively agreed by HAP Members and interested agencies. In this instance the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and six HAP Members requested the presence of the Roving Team in Dadaab to provide individual and collective support, with a particular emphasis on information sharing, participation and complaints handling for refugees and the host community.
The HAP Roving Team was jointly hosted by UNHCR and CARE. Lutheran World Federation (LWF) seconded the Gender Equity and Human Rights Officer from its Kakuma refugee operations to the Roving Team. As part of the secondment agreement between LWF and HAP, the secondee developed an action plan on how to strengthen accountability in Kakuma for LWF and other agencies. The secondment proved to be a good opportunity for cross-learning between the two refugee operations. Broad terms of reference (ToRs) were drafted, and inputs sought from senior managers in Dadaab to ensure that they reflected the reality on the ground. Participating staff were responsible for sharing learning and expertise and developing action plans for their agencies. Agencies with designated staff and sufficient senior management oversight and support made quicker progress and sustained the momentum of the work after the departure of the Roving Team. Agencies which frequently changed staff did not fully benefit from the support available and made limited progress.
Inter-Agency Mapping and Action Planning Exercise
We started working as a humanitarian group and not as single entities, we shared gaps and proposed joint solutions, we have a shared commitment for a way forward. Participants evaluation of the HAP Inter-Agency Mapping Exercise
HAP deployments are undertaken to highlight key accountability issues and facilitate joint action. To achieve this aim, it was agreed that the first step should be to determine the current state of accountability in the Dadaab operations (Ifo Camp was taken as a sample site), using the HAP Standard (a tool to help agencies strengthen the accountability and quality of their humanitarian responses). An open workshop was held to develop the methodology and plan for an Inter-Agency Mapping and Action Planning Exercise. To increase staff understanding and ownership, participants were asked to identify the stakeholders for consultation, develop the key accountability questions, plan the logistics and draft key messages for stakeholders to explain the purpose of the exercise and get their informed consent. In an effort to increase ownership and create a strong group dynamic, it was stressed that this was a joint inter-agency effort so that current practices could be mapped and action points developed for collective action.
This was the first time that a HAP deployment had undertaken such a large-scale accountability mapping exercise. Box 1 summarises the key steps in the process.
To ensure follow-up, the heads of agencies in Dadaab were briefed on the key findings and recommendations from the mapping exercise. There was wide ownership; as one agency head commented in the deployments After-Action Review: I will look at these recommendations as ours not a HAP thing. HAP opened our eyes and minds to come up with a broader picture and look at what is required and use it as a tool to mobilize host communities and refugees.
Dadaab Accountability and Quality Working Group
Participants found the joint mapping exercise and sharing of experiences and challenges particularly useful. It helped to establish common ground for all agencies to start seeing our work with an accountability lens, commented one participant. In order to build upon the inter-agency collaboration and enhance staff capacity to undertake joint action in a coordinated manner, 12 agencies subsequently came together to form the Dadaab Accountability and Quality Working Group (DAQWG). A consultation meeting was held between the participating agencies to jointly determine the terms of reference. It was agreed that the DAQWG would meet monthly to discuss key accountability and quality issues in the ongoing response, plan joint activities and report progress to each other. In addition, through a nominated representative it would present action points and recommendations during heads of agencies meetings. The responsibilities of hosting, chairing and acting as rapporteur are rotated and shared by all of the participating agencies. To avoid the working group becoming an information-sharing forum and losing its primary purpose as action- and outcome-oriented, clear roles and responsibilities were outlined in the ToRs. For example, if feedback or progress on recommendations made by the DAQWG is delayed by the heads of agencies, members can raise the issue with the heads of IOM, WFP and UNHCR (who participated in the initial meeting). In addition, it was agreed that the UNHCR head of mission in Dadaab would meet with the group regularly to provide support. To date, the DAQWG has met according to the agreed schedule and members continue to report to and support each other on their agency-specific accountability action plans and are working towards setting up a joint complaints system. The members have also re-examined the inter-agency referral system for identification of needs and complaints, conducted inter-agency visits, shared good practice and made recommendations to agency heads.
Linking collective and individual action
As well as facilitating collective action, a HAP deployment also provides agency-specific support. This is vitally important since accountability is an individual and collective responsibility. Accountability action plans were jointly developed by the HAP Team and designated staff of interested agencies. While staff have to report progress against their action plans to their senior management, they also have to update the DAQWG on their progress. This has proved to be an opportunity to provide peer support and learning, and a catalyst for agencies to keep moving ahead, maintain momentum and even try to outdo each other in their accountability efforts.
Challenges and solutions to collaboration
A number of challenges emerged during the Dadaab deployment:
Leadership and ensuring senior management commitment and support. Having the HAP members and UNHCR support the deployment was critically important. However, not all the agencies in Dadaab had similar levels of interest and commitment and it requires additional time and effort to bring agencies to a common point of agreement and understanding.
Staff availability and time. It is important to have a flexible and adaptive approach in order to be able to respond to competing priorities, delays and staff absences. Although activities and schedules are set with the agreement of the staff concerned, at times key staff are unable to participate, which breaks the momentum for collective action and learning. Host community issues, influxes of new arrivals, annual floods and work-related responsibilities diverted staff time and focus away from action plans.
Unequal participation and commitment. In a collaborative effort, not all agencies will participate equally, and it is useful to create a small and cogent force of drivers, both individuals and agencies, who will lead and help others to follow.
Logistics and resources. Arranging logistics for large inter-agency activities can be challenging, and transport, security arrangements and provisions for refreshments need to be factored into planning.
Apart from agency-specific improvements according to their action plans, the collaboration between agencies has resulted in LWF and UNHCR conducting informal joint reviews on camp management; WFP and Care have set up a joint complaints system, and all members of the DAQWG are moving towards setting up joint complaints systems and improved peer support and learning. HAP continues to remain closely engaged and provide remote guidance and assistance. A follow-up support visit will be undertaken to Dadaab in May 2011.
Maria Kiani is the Roving Representative at HAP International and leads its Roving Team. She led the deployment to Dadaab.