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UN warns over Dadaab camp clear-out order

By Rawlings Otieno
Thursday, March 25th, 2021
Dadaab refugee camp. Photo/PD/File
In summary
    • 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.

A United Nations agency has urged the Kenya government to ensure that any decisions on the Dadaab and Kakuma camps allow for suitable and sustainable solutions to be found.

The move follows a directive of Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i that some 500,000 refugees in the two camps to leave and return back to their original homes within the exit two weeks.

The move is likely to elicit global concerns and more so over the fate of thousands of refugees, the majority being from Somalia- a country that has since severed bilateral relations with Kenya.

Kenya is citing national security threats posed by some of the refugees, including past terror attacks that have been linked to accomplices of the Somali-based Al-Shabaab militant group within the camps.

Matiang’i yesterday gave the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) a 14-day ultimatum to ensure closure of the facilities, failing which it plans to transport the refugees to the border with Somalia.

“We must strike a balance between Kenya’s international obligations and her domestic duty. We do have a domestic responsibility to protect Kenyans,” said Matiangí.

The complex situation has also left the government torn between its domestic duties and international obligations, some of which are binding and can attract consequences.

However, the UN agency is now calling for consideration of those who live in the camps for need of protection and pledged to keep engaging in a dialogue.

“The decision would have an impact on the protection of refugees in Kenya, including in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.

We will continue our dialogue with the Kenyan authorities on this issue,” reads the statement in part.

While expressing its gratitude to Kenyans for ‘generously hosting refugees and asylum-seekers for several decades’ saying it recognizes the impact this has had, the refugee agency promised to support Kenya in its efforts of hosting the refugees.

“UNHCR stands ready to support the Government of Kenya in continuing and further strengthening the work that is ongoing to find solutions that are orderly, sustainable and respect refugee rights,” the statement adds.

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

The population of refugees in Daadab and Kakuma camps is estimated to be 217,000 and 190,000 respectively.

Refugee camps

When the first case of Covid-19 was reported in Kenya, the government banned movement in and out of two huge refugee camps as part of containment measures.

This was aimed at preventing the spread of the coronavirus among vulnerable communities.

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

Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula has also waded into the matter calling on Kenyan authorities to give the refugees at least six months to vacate the camps.

“The intended closure of Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps is laudable. However, the two-week dateline to evacuate over 500000 refugees to countries of origin or third countries is unrealistic unreasonable and unachievable.

Perhaps six months will suffice,” said Wetang’ula in a tweet.The refugees have continued to shun the voluntary repatriation programme started in 2014. 

Interestingly, only a paltry 14,000 refugees have been repatriated by April 2016. Kenya set another timeline for the closure of the Dadaab refugee complex, by November 30, 2016, which was not achieved.

Kenya argues that the United Nations camp can be set up in Somalia, given that Kenya contributes Sh1billion to the refugee kitty.  

And now Nairobi is protesting that the world powers have frustrated attempts to have the Al-Shabaab who operate from bases in war-torn Somalia designated as a terrorist organisation.

The population exploded in 2010 due to food crisis as a result of the harsh environmental conditions in Somalia, where the majority of the population originated from.

Human rights organisations have however protested the attempts, saying that a long-term and sustainable solution must first be agreed upon to avoid a humanitarian crisis since repatriating refugees to their war-torn homes threatens their lives.

According to UN, as of March 31, 2019, the camp hosted 210,556 refugees, of which 202,381 were from Somalia 56 per cent of the population being children with most of the refugees driven from their homelands by civil war.

High-level diplomatic talks are slated for this Friday, to be hosted by Kenya’s Ministry of Foreign Affair and representatives of countries whose citizens are in the two refugee camps.

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