Kenya has announced plans to shut down the largest refugee camp in the world and repatriate its occupants to their home countries in a move intended to counter terrorism but which has also been condemned worldwide. EURACTIV Germany reports.
The sprawling Daadab camp is home to some 350,000 refugees, three quarter of which are Somalis who have fled decades of civil war in their motherland. The 25 year old camp, located 80 miles from the Kenyan Somalia border, has provided a safe haven to Somalis who were fleeing the 1991 civil war and 2011 when famine struck the East African country.
But the Kenyan government now says the camp has been a breeding ground for terrorists, with major terror attacks being planned and organised in the camp before being executed in major towns. The government also blames the camp for the proliferation of illegal arms in the country.
“Our intelligence has shown us that some of the major terror attacks in this country have been planned at the Dadaab camp.Terrorists take advantage of the big number of refugees at the camp to do their planning unnoticed. Our primary responsibility is securing the lives of Kenyans and that we will do at any cost,” said Joseph Nkaiserry the Cabinet Secretary in the Ministry of Interior and Coordination.
The minister further added that the camp had become a financial and environmental burden having surpassed the number of refugees it was meant to accommodate.
Previously, the Kenyan government has issued its intent to close the camp but has always backed down due to international pressure. This time, however, it seems to have made up its mind. It has set a budget of $10 million for repatriation and announced May 2017 as the last month to have any refugees in Dadaab camp.
It has also closed the Department of Refugee Affairs which is tasked with registering any new refugees that come in the country.
“It is a tough call but we call on the international community to assist us in making the repatriation process smooth. Taking care of refugees is not the responsibility of Kenya alone and the Kenyan refugees have received a raw deal by the international community. We have become strained taking care of them. We can only do so much. We call on the international community to embrace the principle of burden sharing,” Ambassador Amina Mohammed, the Kenyan Minister of Foreign Affairs, said.
But aid agencies, Kenyan opposition and the international community have reacted with uproar terming the decision to close the camp as illegal and impractical.
In a joint statement approved by 11 aid agencies working with refugees in Kenya, they urged the government to rethink closing the camp as this would have far reaching effects not just on the refugees but on regional peace and stability.
“The directive to close the camps violates the general principle of voluntary repatriation of refugees living in Kenya in a safe and dignified manner back to their countries of origin. Additionally, the directive will draw back on the gains made so far in the repatriation process,” read the statement.
Other human rights bodies like Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have also rapped Kenyan for shutting the camp, insisting it violated an agreement it made with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Somali government for voluntary and humane repatriation of refugees.
“Kenya has an international responsibility to take care of the refugees, sending them away is an abdication of that responsibility and will no doubt put many lives at risk,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty’s regional director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.
The Obama Administration also called on the Kenyan government to shelf the idea, arguing that although it supported return of the refugees to their home country, this needed to be done voluntarily, in a dignified way and at such a time when conditions deemed it safe and appropriate for the refugees to return.
Refugees like 20 year old Fartuun Haweeyo have been caught in the middle of the row. Born in the Dadaab camp she has nowhere to call home other than Kenya. Her parents who fled the conflict have always explained to her that Kenya is her home.
“I am totally confused. Kenya is where I have grown up calling home. I have gone to school here and I have had big ambitions of advancing my career and even go to a Kenyan University and get a good job. I know nothing about Somalia. I don’t know where we are supposed to go,” she told EURACTIV by telephone from Daadab.
Should Kenya make good on its plan, it will join a host of countries, the majority of them European, who defy the principle of non-refoulement, hinged in the international law, which forbids countries from sending refugees back home when situations in their home countries have not stabilised.