Kenya de­lays clo­sure of Dadaab refugee camp by six months

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -

Kenya said yes­ter­day it will de­lay by six months the clo­sure of the Dadaab refugee camp, the world’s largest, after calls by the UN and aid groups to post­pone it on hu­man­i­tar­ian grounds.

In­te­rior min­is­ter Joseph Nkaissery said the move fol­lows a re­quest from the United Na­tions High Com­mis­sioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to de­lay the dis­man­tling of the camp, orig­i­nally planned for this month. It has now been pushed back to May. “I wish to an­nounce that the govern­ment has ac­cepted the re­quest to ex­tend the dead­line for the com­ple­tion of the repa­tri­a­tion of So­mali refugees and the even­tual clo­sure of Dadaab refugee com­plex by six months,” he told a news con­fer­ence.

Nkaissery said a com­pre­hen­sive repa­tri­a­tion pro­gramme would be rolled out next month at the camp, which is home to hun­dreds of thou­sands of mostly So­mali refugees. “The repa­tri­a­tion will con­tinue to be car­ried out in a hu­mane, safe and dig­ni­fied man­ner,” he said. The govern­ment an­nounced in May that the vast Dadaab camp in north-east Kenya would be shut down, cit­ing se­cu­rity con­cerns. Since send­ing troops into neigh­bour­ing So­ma­lia in 2011, Kenya has come un­der re­peated at­tack from Shabaab, East Africa’s long­time branch of Al-Qaeda.

‘Forcible re­turns are il­le­gal’

Nairobi has taken a hard­line po­si­tion, claim­ing Dadaab acts as a ter­ror­ist train­ing ground for Shabaab Is­lamists, and has pub­licly and re­peat­edly said it would re­move all So­mali refugees from the coun­try by the end of the year. “De­lay­ing the clo­sure of the camp by six months is cer­tainly bet­ter than de­port­ing the refugees in two weeks. But with the new date... the refugees will con­tinue to feel that they must leave,” said Gerry Simp­son, a re­searcher at rights group Hu­man Rights Watch (HRW).

“Forcible re­turns are il­le­gal. Kenya must end its threats to close Dadaab and the UNHCR and donors must press Kenya to pub­licly re­as­sure the So­mali refugees and tell them that they are wel­come in Kenya un­til they are able to re­turn home safely.”

In Septem­ber HRW warned in a re­port that the repa­tri­a­tion of So­ma­lis from the sprawl­ing Dadaab camp vi­o­lated in­ter­na­tional stan­dards and that refugees were re­turn­ing home in­vol­un­tar­ily only to face per­se­cu­tion and hunger. The Kenyan govern­ment dis­missed the re­port. Refugees will be re­turn­ing to a coun­try that al­ready has over one mil­lion peo­ple dis­placed from their homes, where five mil­lion lack enough food and where African and So­mali forces are still fight­ing Al-Qaedaaligned Shabaab mil­i­tants.

An es­ti­mated 18,000 have re­turned this year — 10,000 since the an­nounce­ment of the camp’s clo­sure. The vast ma­jor­ity of res­i­dents of the Dadaab com­plex of camps close to the Kenya-So­ma­lia bor­der fled So­ma­lia’s more than two-decade-long con­flict. Many re­main fear­ful of re­turn­ing to a coun­try where in­se­cu­rity re­mains rife.

DADAAB, KENYA: This file photo taken on April 29, 2015 shows a So­mali refugee woman with her child stand­ing in their com­pound at Ha­gadera sec­tor of the Dadaab refugee camp, north of the Kenyan cap­i­tal Nairobi.

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