Kenya to close refugee camps despite Obama, UN pleas


Refugees queue for food rations at the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya. PHOTO | FILE

Kenya has defied calls by United Nations (UN) and US President Barack Obama administration to stop the forceful closure of Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps after the Treasury provided Sh1 billion for the relocation of Somali refugees.

Interior secretary Joseph Nkaissery on Wednesday said $10 million (Sh1 billion) had been set aside and a taskforce would be gazetted to guide repatriation of the refugees.

The US Wednesday joined the UN and other human rights groups in urging Kenya to rescind its decision to shut down the refugee the camps “within the shortest time possible.”

Kenya has remained adamant and Wednesday said moving of the refugees to their home countries or third party nations had started.

“The decision was arrived at in 2013 when Kenya, Somalia and UN refugee agency (UNHCR) signed a tripartite agreement setting grounds for repatriation of refugees. There has been slow progress in implementation of the agreement,” said Mr Nkaissery.

Addressing a news conference, Mr Nkaissery said that as part of concluding the process Kenya was committed to close the Dadaab refugee camp.

“The decision has been made by the government reflecting the fact that camps have become hosting grounds for Al-Shabaab,” he said.

The US reckons that the 2013 agreement called for the voluntary return of refugees and asked Kenya to cooperate with the UN and the Somalia government in the repatriation plan.

READ: Kenya at risk of Sh10bn loss from Dadaab shutdown

Fewer than 10,000 of roughly 420,000 Somalis living in Dadaab and Kakuma have so far returned to their homeland in accordance with the tri-partite agreement.

On Monday, the UNHCR said conditions in Somalia and South Sudan remain unsuitable for large-scale return of refugees.

The National Assembly committee on Defence has backed the government’s move to close down the refugee camps, citing heavy economic, security and environmental burden. Since 2011, Kenyan forces have been fighting against the Somali extremist Al-Shabaab.