Immigration

Malala visits Kenya refugee camp on 19th birthday

Malala Yousafza, speaks to refugees in the Dadaab refugee camp, Kenya, Tuesday, July 12, 2016. Source: AAP

Pakistani teenage activist Malala Yousafzai has spent her 19th birthday campaigning for girls' education at the world's largest refugee camp in Kenya.

Somali schoolgirls risk losing out on education and becoming child brides if they are forced to leave the world's largest refugee camp in Kenya and move to their war-torn country where there are not enough schools, Malala Yousafzai says.

The Pakistani teenage education activist, who survived a near-fatal attack by the Taliban in 2012, spent her 19th birthday in Dadaab camp, which Kenya wants to close, citing security concerns.

"The problem is that there aren't enough schools in Somalia," Yousafzai told the Thomson Reuters Foundation, sitting in a classroom in one of Dadaab's seven secondary schools on Tuesday.

"If they (girls) do not go to school, then they get married at a very early age - and the same would have been my future if I couldn't go to school," she said.

"You are only just like someone else's property and I never ever wanted that. I wanted to be myself."

The East African nation, which has been hit by a string of attacks by Islamist extremists, aims to send 150,000 of Dadaab's 342,000 people, who are mostly Somali, home by the end of 2016.

Kenya backtracked on an earlier plan, announced in May, to close the entire camp by November, following an outcry from rights groups who said much of Somalia was not yet safe for return.

Yousafzai was accompanied around the wind-swept, sandy camp by Rahma Hussein Noor, a 19-year-old Somali refugee who was repatriated to Somalia with her family in October but ran away when her father tried to force her to get married.

"I told my father I am not going to marry until I finish my studies," Noor said. "He tried to force me but I sneaked (away) from the family."

Hundreds of young refugees crowded into a sports ground to hear Yousafzai, the world's youngest Nobel Laureate, speak.

"We should not ask children who flee their homes to also give up their dreams," she said.

"The young people in this camp are future leaders on whom we will all depend for peace."

Somalia has been mired in civil war since 1991 and continues to face an Islamist insurgency.

Only four out of 10 Somali girls attend school in Dadaab compared to six out of 10 boys because girls' education is not valued, schools are overcrowded and refugee families are poor.

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