Friday March 29, 2019
By David Herbling
Kenya is again considering closing the Dadaab refugee camp, once the
world’s largest, two years after the nation’s High Court blocked the
proposed shutdown that drew criticism from human rights groups.
United Nations refugee agency “is aware of the renewed call by the
government of Kenya to close the camp,” Dana Hughes, a UNHCR
spokeswoman, said Thursday in emailed responses to questions. “Any
refugee returns must be done on a voluntary and fully informed basis, in
conditions of safety and dignity.”
The camp that opened almost three decades ago is home to mostly
ethnic Somalis who crossed into Kenya first to flee a civil war that
ousted then President Mohamed Siad Barre in 1991. More refugees arrived
from Somalia to escape a drought and famine a decade later.
The number of people living in the camp has reduced to
210,000 now from a peak of about half a million in 2011, according to
2016, the government announced plans to close the camp after it said
that Somalia-based militants were using it as a base to plan attacks on
Kenya. While a high court in 2017 blocked the move, a voluntary
repatriation program continued under which 81,000 refugees have returned
to Somalia since 2014, according to Hughes.
A spokeswoman at the Interior Ministry didn’t comment immediately when called.
Human rights groups have opposed Kenya’s renewed push to shutter the camp because it infringes on the rights of refugees.
plans must be shelved,” Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director
Irungu Houghton said in an emailed statement. A decision to close the
camp would violate the 2017 court ruling. The government should instead
find durable solutions for the refugees including integrating them into
Kenyan society, Houghton said.
“Many Somali refugees are themselves victims of violence,
from which they fled to seek protection,” New York-based Human Rights
Watch said in a statement on its website. “Forcing them to go back to
face violence or persecution would be inhumane and a violation of
Kenya’s legal obligations.”
— With assistance by Eric Ombok