Kenya delays closure of refugee camps with half a million people


Kenya has rescheduled its planned closure of refugee camps Dadaab and Kakuma following discussions between UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, and top government officials.

The meeting comes in the wake of the Kenyan government’s communicated intention to work toward the closure of the refugee camps as both parties agree that refugee camps are not a long-term solution to forced displacement and are committed to working together to find alternative solutions.

A joint team, comprising officials from the government and the UN agency, will now be formed to finalise a roadmap on the next steps towards a “humane management of refugees” in both camps.

“We are serious about completing the repatriation programme, which we started in 2016, in full view of our international obligations and our domestic responsibility. We therefore reiterate our earlier position to close both Dadaab and Kakuma camps by 30 June 2022,” said interior cabinet secretary Dr. Fred Matiang’i.

The new move follows several government announcements that it intended to close the camps, including issuing a two-week ultimatum in March to the UNHCR to provide a roadmap.

There are currently 433,765 refugees living in the camps, of which almost 280,000 are from Somalia, with others coming from Ethiopia, Eritrea, Sudan, South Sudan, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.

Over the past 30 years, Kenya has shouldered the burden of sheltering refugees in the swelling camps, which have long overstretched their capacity, and has repeatedly expressed concerns over the security of both Kenyans and refugees at the camps.

The UNHCR presented a plan to Kenya at the beginning of April which included voluntary return in “safety and dignity” of refugees to home countries, relocation to third countries and alternative stay options in Kenya for some east Africans.

Grandi said the UN was satisfied that Kenya would continue to provide protection and services for asylum-seekers and refugees while solutions were pursued “because refugee camps are not long-term solutions to forced displacement”.

“I believe that the government and people of Kenya will continue to show their generous hospitality towards refugees, as they have done for nearly three decades, while we carry on discussions on a strategy to find the most durable, appropriate and rights-based solutions for refugees and asylum-seekers residing in the refugee camps in Dadaab and Kakuma,” said Grandi.

Kenya’s cabinet secretary for foreign affairs, Raychelle Omamo, said closure was an aspiration to restore dignity to the displaced. She added: “We are not chasing people away, but a camp is not a permanent thing. It is a place of limbo. No one should live in a place of uncertainty or indignity generation after generation. What we are now working on is how to achieve this cooperatively, which is in line with the Global Compact on Refugees.”

Kenya has, in recent days, come under pressure to rescind the decision. In a press briefing ahead of US secretary of state Antony Blinken’s virtual trip to Africa this month, the acting US assistant secretary for African Affairs, Robert Godec, said the US was “very concerned” about Dadaab and Kakuma shutting down.

“I have spoken with the Kenyan leaders myself about this issue. And the Kenyans have committed to live up to their international commitments with respect to the refugees, and we welcome that commitment. We expect them to do it. It is a subject of ongoing discussion,” Godec said.

“UNHCR has provided some … well, a proposal, really, on a way forward. And we understand the Kenyans accepted it. We hope, again, that the Kenyans will live up to their international commitment and that this matter can be resolved.” (Source: The Guardian)