By Samuel Ouma
Kenya should reconsider its demand to have Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps closed in the next few weeks, said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
The request came few hours after the Kenyan government issued a 14-day ultimatum to the UN agency to develop a definite closure plan, citing security reasons.
UNHCR said the move would only cause more misery to the refugees amid the Covid-19 pandemic.
It urged Kenya to hold on until suitable and sustainable solutions are found, noting the notice was extremely short.
Despite Kenya’s Interior Cabinet Secretary Dr. Fred Matiang’i saying there is no room for negotiation, the agency is committed to dialogue with Kenyan authorities over the matter.
“UNHCR is concerned about the impact this decision would have on the protection of refugees in Kenya, including in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue our dialogue with the Kenyan authorities on this issue,” read part of the statement issued by UNHCR.
The UN Refugee Agency further thanked Kenya for hosting refugees and asylum-seekers for several years and recognized its impact.
It further said that it would support Kenya’s government in continuing and further strengthening the ongoing work to find orderly, sustainable, and respect refugee rights.
The two camps host over 410,000 people, with half of them coming from Somalia, and the rest are divided among South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda, and Uganda.
Now it is the third time Kenya is pushing for the closure of the camps. The first time was in 2016, following intelligence reports that linked the 2013 and 2015 terror attacks to some individuals residing in the camps. However, the country’s High Court blocked the move saying it was unconstitutional.
The East African nation revived its move in 2019 following the DusitD2 complex terror attack in Nairobi that left 21 people dead and several injured.
One of the five men who attacked the building entered Kenya through Dagahaley Refugee Camp in the larger Dadaab. However, it backfired again.
Kenya’s move comes at a time it is enduring a severe relationship with neighboring Somalia. The two countries have a case before the International Court of Justice over maritime border row. However, Kenya has boycotted the hearing, which began on March 15 at the Hague, citing biasness.
Somalia had also accused Kenya of interfering with its internal affairs, went ahead and cut diplomatic ties with her neighbor.