Kenya closing camps with hundreds of thousands of refugees

2016-05-07 10:05

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Nairobi – The Kenyan government said on Friday it will close two refugee camps, including one of the world's biggest, due to a lack of security and economic challenges as human Rights group condemned the plan.

The closure of the camps will have adverse effects and the international community should collectively take responsibility for the humanitarian needs that arise, Karanja Kibicho, permanent secretary at the Interior Ministry, said.

The government has disbanded the Department of Refugee Affairs, which works with humanitarian organisations looking after the welfare of refugees, Kibicho said.

The voluntary repatriation process in an agreement signed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Kenyan government and the Somali government in 2013 has been very slow, Kibicho said.

He said Kenya has been hosting the refugees for nearly 25 years and it had taken its toll on the country.

The camps targeted for closure are Daadab and Kakuma. Daadab in eastern Kenya is that largest, with more than 328 000 refugees, mainly Somalis escaping conflict in their war-torn country that is struggling to defeat an insurgency by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabaab insurgents. The Kakuma camp hosts 190 000 refuges, the majority of them South Sudanese escaping civil war in their country.

Kibicho said the camps have bread terrorists from al-Shabaab. Al-Shabaab has vowed attacks on Kenya for sending troops to Somalia to fight the militants as part of the African Union forces bolstering Somalia's weak government. Two attackers in the September 21 Westgate Mall in Nairobi in which 63 people were killed lived in Kakuma camp.

‘Reckless’

It's not the first time Kenya has threatened to send home the refugees and international rights groups condemned the move.

"Officials have not provided credible evidence linking Somali refugees to any terrorist attacks in Kenya. Human Rights Watch is not aware of convictions of Somali refugees in connection with any attack in Kenya," Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Amnesty International said the move is reckless and could lead to the involuntary return of refugees to countries where their lives could still be in danger.

"While it is true that resettlement to third countries has been slow, Kenya should itself consider permanent solutions towards the full integration of refugees, some of whose stay in Kenya is now over generations," said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty's regional head. "Forced return to situations of persecution or conflict is not an option."

Doctors Without Borders said the closure of the camps would risk some 330 000 Somali lives and have extreme humanitarian consequences of forcing people to return to a war-torn country with minimal access to vital medical and humanitarian assistance.

Doctors Without Borders "is urging the government to reconsider this call, and – alongside the international organisations 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," said Liesbeth Aelbrecht, DWB head of mission in Kenya.

Read more on:    kenya  |  east africa

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