UNHCR given 14-day ultimatum to close Dadaab, Kakuma camps

UNHCR given 14-day ultimatum to close Dadaab, Kakuma camps

Interior CS Fred Matiang’i has issued the UN refugee agency with a 14-day ultimatum on closure of Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps.

Dr. Matiang’i told the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) that there is no room for further negotiations.

This is the second attempt by the Kenyan Government to have the camps closed and refugees repatriated.

In May 2016, Kenya announced its plans to close the world’s largest refugee camp, Dadaab, saying it had been infiltrated by terrorist cells.

However, rights organisations alleged that Kenya has harassed Somali refugees to return home when it is not safe to do so.

At the time, Kenya was hosting around 600,000 refugees and asylum-seekers, including almost 350,000 in Dadaab.

Jubaland turns refugees away

In August that year, some refugees who had left Dadaab were stranded near the Somali border after authorities in Jubaland refused to receive them, saying they could not provide enough assistance, local media reported.

In November 2016, the Government bowed to international pressure and said it would delay the closure of the camps to give residents more time to find new homes.

In February 2017, a Kenyan court said it would be unconstitutional for the government to close a sprawling refugee camp housing mostly people who have fled unrest in Somalia. The government said it would appeal the ruling.

In March 2019, the Kenyan Government renewed its quest to have Daadab refugee camp closed and gave the refugee agency until the middle of the year to do so.

The Government wrote to UNHCR on February 12, 2019 about plans to close Dadaab within six months and asked the agency ‘to expedite relocation of the refugees and asylum-seekers residing therein’.

Renewed call

“UNHCR is aware of the renewed call by the Government of Kenya to close Dadaab and is working with the government to continue to implement long-term and sustainable solutions for over 210,000 refugees living in the camp,” said the UNHCR in a statement emailed to the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“These include voluntary returns, third country solutions such as resettlement, sponsorships, family reunifications and labor migration, as well as relocations in Kenya, including at Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei Settlement.”

According to the U.N. document, UNHCR has helped almost 83,000 people return to Somalia voluntarily since 2015.

But the number of returnees dropped last year to about 7,500 compared to about 35,500 in 2017 and 34,000 in 2016.

In April 2020, Kenya banned movement in and out of two huge refugee camps as part of containment measures aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus among vulnerable communities.

At the time, the population of refugees in Daadab and Kakuma was 217,000 and 190,000 respectively.

The directive followed warnings from health experts and humanitarian groups that an outbreak of COVID-19 in densely populated refugee camps would be catastrophic.

Dadaab was established by the United Nations in 1991, and has since mushroomed, with more refugees streaming in, uprooted by drought and famine as well as on-going insecurity. Many have lived there for years.

Additional report from Reuters and Al Jazeera

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