The government has made ‘reckless’ orders to close down two of the country’s major refugee camps, potentially placing nearly half a million lives of refugees in Kenya at risk.
In what by now some are calling a familiar move, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) received orders last week from Kenyan authorities to close camps that mainly hold Somali and South Sudanese refugees.
Dadaab, where the country’s largest camps are located, is an arid area that is almost completely dependent on provisions from third parties. Food is provided via emergency packages from UNHCR and the World Food Programme (WFP).
The interior minister, Fred Matiang’I, had declared that UNHCR had two weeks to fully plan the closure of Dadaab and Kakuma, the second largest refugee camp in Kenya. He added that there would be ‘no room for negotiation.’
A Pattern of Group Persecution
This is not the first time the Kenyan government has attempted to force these camps to close. In 2017, Kenya’s high court blocked the government from closing the camps and forcing 260,000 Somali refugees to return to Somalia where they would be in immediate danger.
At the time, the Kenyan government was convinced that terrorist attacks from Somalia-based al-Shabab that took place on Kenyan soil was planned within the camp.
A Kenyan government spokesman, Eric Kiraithe, said: ‘The camp had lost its humanitarian nature and had become a haven for terrorism and other illegal activities.’
Human rights organisations have long argued that the Kenyan government has treated Somali refugees with hostility and discrimination, using presumed involvement in terrorism as justification.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights challenged the previous closure of the camps, stating that it contradicted international law and was unconstitutional as targeted groups were being persecuted against.
The Story of Dadaab
Construction for the Dadaab camp finished in 1992 and acted as refuge for people affected by the Somali Civil War.
At one point it was the world’s largest refugee camp and some refugees have been living there for over 20 years.
Kakuma, located in the northwest, holds nearly 200,000 refugees who have fled from South Sudan due to similar armed conflicts to Somalia. Some of the original refugees in Kakuma were the ‘Lost Boys of Sudan’, a group of over 20,000 young boys who were displaced during the Second Sudanese Civil War that only ended in 2005.
For the past few years, Kenya’s relations with Somalia have degraded over claims of interference with international affairs. The two countries are also facing each other at the International Court of Justice over a maritime dispute. Despite this, Kenya has boycotted the hearing at court.
Regardless of what’s happening between the two nations, Kenya’s interior minister is insisting that the decision to close the camps has nothing to do with their diplomatic relations with Somalia and that reporting as such is ‘inaccurate’.
Human Rights Response
Human rights groups involved with supporting the refugee camps in Kenya have spoken out against the government’s decision to close the camps.
UNHCR responded to Kenya’s order by stating that: ‘We will continue our dialogue with the Kenyan authorities on this issue.’
The NGO Refugees International were more outspoken on the issues, saying the orders are ‘reckless and cruel.’
[Header image: natanaelginting, freepik]