Kenya says Dadaab, Kakuma refugee camps to close next year

The Kenyan government informed the United Nations Refugee Agency (UNHCR) that it will close two refugee camps with more than 400,000 people by June 30 next year.

Before the announcement by the Interior Ministry on Thursday, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi held a meeting on the situation of the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. Of the 433,765 refugees and asylum seekers in the settlement, most are from Somalia and South Sudan.

“A joint group comprising officials from the Kenyan authorities and the (UN Refugee) agency will therefore be formed to finalise and put into effect a road map on the next steps towards a humane management of refugees in each camp,” a joint statement said.

Earlier this month, UNHCR provided Kenya with what it stated were “sustainable rights-based measures” for finding solutions for the refugees’ longstanding displacement.

This followed a two-week ultimatum given by Kenya’s interior minister for the organization to come up with a road map to shut the decades-old camps.

A push by Kenya’s government to close down the camps sooner was blocked after the country’s High Court issued a transient 30-day order following a legal challenge filed by former presidential aspirant Peter Gichira that sought to block the closure.

The “sustainable and rights-based measures” taken by UNHCR to find a solution for the  displacement of the refugee include voluntary return for refugees in safety and dignity, departure to third countries under various arrangements and alternative residence options in kenya for some refugees from East African Community or EAC, countries.

“We are serious about completing the repatriation program that we started in 2016, taking into account our international commitments and our domestic responsibility. We therefore reiterate our previous position to close both Dadaab and Kakuma camps by June 30, 2022,” the Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i, said. 

“I believe that the Kenyan government and people will continue to show their generous hospitality to refugees as they have for nearly three decades, as we continue discussions on a strategy to finding the most appropriate, permanent, adequate and rights-based solutions for refugees and asylum seekers living in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps, ”Grandi said.

Refugees from East African nations will be given the choice of being issued a work permit for free so that they can integrate into Kenyan communities or go back to their country of origin, Matiang’i stated.

Kenya has stated the Dadaab refugee camp close to the Somalia border is a source of insecurity. Some officials have argued that it’s been used as a recruiting ground for the armed group al-Shabab and a base for launching violent assaults inside Kenya, however officials have now no longer furnished conclusive proof.

Kenya has been pronouncing for years that it would really like to close Dadaab, near Kenya’s eastern border with Somalia and which hosts almost 200,000 mostly Somali refugees.

A Kenyan court in 2017 blocked the closure of the Dadaab camp, announcing it was not safe for refugees to go back to Somalia.

The Kenyan government’s latest call is seen as retaliation towards Somalia for insisting on pursuing a case on the International Court of Justice over a disputed maritime border among the two countries. Kenya wants the case settled out of court.

Kakuma, home to greater than 190,000 refugees, is located in Kenya’s northwest. Dadaab is in eastern Kenya, near the Somali border, however many Somalis have moved between the 2 camps.

Dadaab became installed 30 years ago and was once the world’s largest refugee camp, which, at its peak, hosted more than half a million people fleeing violence and drought in Somalia.

“It’s very terrifying because we do not know the next step, like where are we going to go from here,” David Omot, an Ethiopian who has lived in both Kakuma and Dadaab since 2005, said of the closure order. “Where will we go? Back home we still have some insecurity, there are still some issues that people are facing, in particular the youths.”

Austin Baboya, a South Sudanese 26-year-old based in Kakuma, stated he has not known another home than a refugee camp.

“I don’t know if the [Kenyan] authorities have sat down and taken into consideration the lives of people living in the camp or they simply awaken and make those decisions,” Baboya stated, calling on UNHCR and international donors to help find a solution.

“Before the camp was open very many people lost lives. Very many people fled their home countries … They have found an area to name home and I don’t think many of them are willing to head back.”