In a decision lambasted by human rights groups, Kenya has decided not to accept or host refugees anymore. The country is working to close down all existing refugee camps within its territory, a move that would effectively displace over 600,000 people living there.
The government, in a statement on Friday, said it is shutting down the camps due to “very heavy” economic, security and environmental challenges. Although there is no credible evidence linking the refugees, most of whom belong to the neighboring country of Somalia, to any terrorist activities Kenya, the authorities have cited terror group Al-Shabaab among the major risks of keeping the camps open.
“Kenya, having taken into consideration its national security interests, has decided that hosting of refugees has come to an end,” explained Karanja Kibicho, Kenya’s secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. “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.”
Dadaab camp, the largest refugee settlement in the world, is among the camps facing closure. Built 20 years ago, the site hosts more than 330,000 refugees from Somalia. Kakuma camp, home to about 150,000 Somalis, Sudanese, Congolese, Rwandans and Burundians, also awaits the same fate.
“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,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s regional director for East Africa. “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.”
This is not the first time that Kenya has announced it would close refugee camps. In 2015, the government made a similar move but had to back down due to international pressure.
However, the country seems more resolute this time around, as it has already disbanded the Department of Refugee Affairs as a first step — much to the dismay of various international charities and organizations.
“MSF is urging the government to reconsider this call, and — alongside the international organizations already present in the camp — to continue to provide humanitarian assistance and ensure acceptable living conditions for the hundreds of thousands of people who desperately need it,” stated Liesbeth Aelbrecht, MSF head of mission in Kenya.
It is unclear where the displaced refugees are supposed to go after being forced out of the country.
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Banner and thumbnail credit: Reuters, Thomas Mukoya