The Star (Kenya)

Catholic bishops oppose refugee camps closure

Clerics say move would expose vulnerable women, children to suffering because of Covid, calls for programme to cushon them

- GORDON OSEN @Thestarken­ya

The impending closure of Daadab and Kakuma refugee camps and the repatriati­on of the refugees and asylum seekers to Somalia is unwise and would be counterpro­ductive, catholic bishops have said.

The bishops, under the banner of Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops, said on Sunday that closure of the camps in the midst of a vicious Coronaviru­s pandemic would expose vulnerable women and children to suffering.

The decision, they said, is also against the internatio­nal law that requires refugee hosting nations to only repatriate the refugees and asylum seekers back to their countries only when the conditions have improved and they are out of danger.

Poor governance in Somalia has not changed, war and violence has not abated, famine and hunger has not subsided. Forcibly returning then violates the principle of non-refoulment, they said.

Should the state insist to proceed with the plans, they said, it should develop programmes to cushion their health and give them relief packages to enable them settle back.

Some over 400,000 refugees and asylum seekers live in the two camps. The refugees mainly come from Somalia though there are others from neighbouri­ng countries include Tanzania, Uganda, DRC, Burundi Ethiopia, Rwanda, South Sudan among other countries.

The Kenyan government announced its intention in November 2016 to close the camps. On march 24, it gave a 14-day ultimatum to close the camps, a directive that expired on April 7.

The main argument of the government is that the camps have been infiltrate­d by elements from Al-qaeda-offshoot al Shabaab and its sympathise­rs who have launched terrorist attacks from there.

But the bishops demand that instead of closing down the camps, the state should enhance security in the facilities, including reviewing the terror-screening regimens and shelve the plans. “We recommend that the government shelves this unfortunat­e idea and instead, increase security and any other support to the refugees as well as the bodies that work directly in ensuring that they receive their basic needs,” it said.

The conference argues that the decision to close down the camps and return the refugees back home has been arbitraril­y made and no plans to cushion their suffering have been rolled out. “The refugees have become even more vulnerable due to Covid-19 pandemic which demands certain health measures to be observed in order to stay safe which they cannot because of the harsh conditions they live in,”they said.

“It is highly unfortunat­e and regrettabl­e that the intention by the Kenyan authoritie­s to close Daadab and Kakuma camps with a short time frame that these people need help. This is the time to give protection and embrace to the most vulnerable in the society.”

The bishops join the anti-closure chorus from human rights groups including Amnesty internatio­nal that has advised that the government uses its platform at the UN security council to obtain more funding from the internatio­nal community to sustain the camps.

“We urge the government to ensure any decisions allow for suitable and sustainabl­e solutions to be found and that those who continue to need protection are able to receive it,”it said.

 ??  ??

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Kenya