Kenya Again Threatens to Close Refugee Camps Amidst Security ConcernsMay 16, 2016 in Kenya
On Friday 6 May, the Kenyan government announced that refugees from Somalia will no longer be accepted in Kenya, citing security fears.
According to a statement that was signed by interior ministry official Karanja Kibicho, “the Government of the Republic of Kenya, having taken into consideration its national security interests, decided that hosting of refugees has come to an end.” The statement further indicated that under the directive, newly-arrived asylum seekers will not automatically receive refugee status and the government will step up efforts to have those who are already living in the country removed. Mwende Njoka, interior ministry spokesman, disclosed that “the message is clear, we are closing the camps and we will not accept more refugees in the country,” adding that new regulations were aimed at refugees from Somalia but that those from other countries may also be affected, noting “the problematic ones are the Somalis. They’re the ones we’re starting with.” Kenya hosts around 550,000 refugees in two camps in Kakuma and Dadaab, the world’s largest, many of whom have fled decades of war in neighboring Somalia. In 2013, the governments of Kenya and Somali, along with the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) signed a so-called tripartite agreement, which was aimed at encouraging Somali refugees to return home voluntarily. However since then, only a few thousand have taken up the offer, which has left Kenya frustrated at the slowness. According to Kibicho, “Kenya has been forced by circumstances to reconsider the whole issue of hosting refugees and the process of repatriation,” adding that the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA), which s responsible for refugee registration and management, had been “disbanded.” However a DRA employee reached by phone at work on Friday afternoon expressed surprise, stating that he knew nothing of the directive.
Government and security officials regularly asset that Islamic militants from al-Shabaab thrive and recruit among Somali refugees. These claims however have been denied by independent observers and by the refugees themselves who point out that many of them have fled al-Shabaab’s depredations. Following deadly al-Shabaab assaults on Nairobi’s Westgate shopping centre and Garissa university, senior officials threated to close Dadaab camp and remove the refugees. In April 2015, just days after that attack in Garissa, Deputy President William Ruto promised to close Dadaab “in three months,” however that deadline, like the previous ones. Friday’s statement again conflated refugees and terrorists emphasizing, “the immense security challenges such as threat of the Shebaab and other related terror groups that hosting of refugees has continued to pose to Kenya. New arrivals from Somalia will no longer receive ‘prima facie’ refugee status but will have to argue their cases individually. However the agency that has been tasked with processing those applications, the DRA, is to be shut down.
On Monday 9 May, the United Nations warned that Kenya’s decision to stop hosting refugees could have “devastating consequences” for hundreds of thousands of people. It has urged the country with the world’s largest refugee camp to reconsider the move. The UN agency has voiced alarm at the announcement, warning against “the potentially devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of people that premature ending of refugee hosting would have. A statement released by UNHCR disclosed that “the safety of hundreds of thousands of Somalis, South Sudanese and others has (long) hinged on Kenya’s generosity and its willingness to be a leading beacon in the region for international protection,” adding, “tragically, the situations in Somali and South Sudan that cause people to flee are still unresolved.” UNHCR has appealed to Kenya to continue hosting the refugees, warning that it risked worsening the current global refugee crisis if it did not. In its statement, the agency reported that “in today’s global context of some 60 million people forcibly displaced, it is more important than ever that international asylum obligations prevail and are properly supported, “adding, “in light of this, and because of the potentially devastating consequences for hundreds of thousands of people that premature ending of refugee hosting would have, UNHCR is calling on the government of Kenya to reconsider its decision.” A group of charities working in the world’s largest refugee camp in Kenya added their voices on Tuesday to those calling on Nairobi to reconsider a decision to stop hosting Somali refugees. The eleven charities described the Kenyan government’s decision to close Dadaab and Kakuma camps as “unfortunate, adding, “the recent announcement will have far reaching implications for the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who have called Kenya a place of refuge.” The eleven non-governmental organizations (NGOs), which together provide basic services including healthcare and clean water in the two camps, acknowledged Kenya’s burden in hosting refugees from around the region, however they urged the government not to implement its ne plan. The NGOs, which include the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council, warned that closing the camps “violates the general principle of voluntary repatriation” and puts the refugees at risk, many of them women and children. Despite fears raised by aid agencies, human rights group sand the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), Kenya has insisted that it will go ahead with the plan however no timeline has been released.
On Wednesday 11 May, the interior minister announced that Kenya is drawing up a timetable to close Dadaab refugee camp, which hosts about 350,000 Somalis, because of security concerns. According to Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery, the country has set up a taskforce to handle the closure plan. Speaking at a news conference, the minister disclosed that “they will present the timetable based on all the resources required,” adding that state funds had been allocated in order to proceed with the programme. He also disclosed that “the government has commenced the exercise of closing the complex of Dadaab refugee camp,” without specifying what new action had ben taken beyond a voluntary repatriation programme that is already in place.