The Kenyan government is intending to shut all refugee settlement camps due to security reasons.
By: Roshni Kapur
Kenya is drawing up a timetable to close all refugee camps, a move that will displace as many as 600,000 refugees.
The government announced last Friday that it will shut down the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps “within the shortest time possible,” due to terrorist threats from Al-Shabab, a Somali-backed Islamist group that has executed several mass attacks in Kenya.
It said that accommodating the refugees in the camps posed “immense security challenges.”.
The two refugee camps Dadaab and Kakuma are expected to cease all operations and shut down. Dadaab is the largest refugee camp in the world that is home to more than 300,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia. Kakuma is another refugee camp which houses almost 200,000 people, mostly South Sudanese fleeing the civil war.
The closures mean that Somali and South Sudanese asylum seekers will be forcibly repatriated to their home countries, a situation they fled to seek asylum in Kenya.
Although the Kenyan government has not given a date, it has launched a taskforce to carry out the closure plan. They have already disbanded the Department of Refugee Affairs, which worked with humanitarian organisations for the welfare of the refugees.
Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery said the government has kept aside state funds to carry out the closure program.
“They will present the timetable based on all the resources required,” adding that the country had already allocated state funds to proceed with the program,” he said.
“The government has commenced the exercise of closing the complex of Dadaab refugee camp,” he added.
The refugee camps have been ambushed and attacked on multiple occasions by the Islamist Somali group Al-Shabab from time to time. Al-Shabab also claimed responsibility for the 2013 attack on Nairobi’s Westgate Mall that killed 67 people and the 2015 attack on a college in the town of Garissa that killed 148.
Karanja Kibicho, Kenya’s secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade said that the continuous threat from Al-Shabaab poses a risk to keep the camps running.
“Kenya, having taken into consideration its national security interests, has decided that hosting of refugees has come to an end,” Kibicho was quoted in an online article on The Independent.
“The Government of Kenya acknowledges that the decision will have adverse effects on the lives of refugees and therefore the international community must collectively take responsibility on humanitarian needs that will arise out of this action,” he added.
The move to shut down the two camps has been criticised by human rights groups such as Amnesty International (AI), expressing concern at the hundreds of thousands of refugees it could put in danger.
“This reckless decision by the Kenyan government is an abdication of its duty to protect the vulnerable and will put thousands of lives at risk,” Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s regional director in East Africa was quoted in an online article on The Independent.
“It could lead to the involuntary return of thousands of refugees to Somalia and other countries of origin, where their lives may still be in danger. This would be in violation of Kenya’s obligations under international law.”
The US has urged Kenya to reconsider shutting down the camps. The US Secretary of State John Kerry released a statement earlier on Wednesday expressing deep alarm about the move and urging the government “to maintain its longstanding leadership role in protecting and sheltering victims of violence and trauma…and not forcibly repatriate refugees.”
Kenya has acknowledged that its move to shut down the camps will cause harm to the refugees and said the international community must take steps to minimise their pain and suffering.
The government has intended to shut all refugee settlement camps in retrospect but the program never followed through. Last year, food rations in the refugee camps were shortened due to a lack of funds.