Kenya Is Planning To Shut Down The World’s Largest Refugee Camp

Hundreds of thousands of people could be displaced.

10/05/2016 6:11 AM AEST | Updated 10/05/2016 6:11 AM AEST
Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
The Kenyan government has announced plans to close the world's largest refugee camp, where nearly 330,000 Somali refugees currently live.

In a move condemned by human rights groups around the globe, Kenya has announced plans to shutter all of its refugee camps -- including Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp complex.

Due to "immense security challenges" including al Qaeda's Somalia-based affiliate, al-Shabaab, the Kenyan government said in a statement on Friday that its hosting of refugees "has come to an end."

By providing refuge to more than 600,000 people for nearly 25 years, the government said it has "continued to shoulder [a] very heavy economic, security and environmental burden on behalf of the region and international community."

The government noted in the statement that it had already disbanded the Department of Refugee Affairs, and called on the international community to do its part in "minimizing [the] pain and suffering" of the soon-to-be-displaced refugees by offering humanitarian assistance.

"The message is clear; we are closing the camps and we will not accept more refugees in the country," Ministry of Interior spokesman Mwenda Njoka said.

Human rights organizations have slammed the government over the looming closure.

This "reckless decision" will put thousands of innocent lives at risk, Amnesty International warned in a statement released after the announcement.

“The threat al-Shabaab poses in Somalia and Kenya is real, but that doesn’t negate Kenya’s obligation to abide by international refugee law,” noted Bill Frelick, the refugee rights program director at Human Rights Watch. “Kenya should not turn its back on people needing protection and on fundamental principles that it has pledged to respect.”

The Kenyan government tried previously to shut down the Dadaab refugee camp complex, which is now home to nearly 330,000 Somali people who have fled ongoing conflict and political instability.

After more than 140 students were killed by al-Shabaab gunmen at Kenya's Garissa University College last year, the government suggested that a terrorist network had seeped into the Dadaab complex.

"The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa," Deputy President William Ruto said of the killings, and told the United Nations refugee agency it had three months to relocate Dadaab's refugees before the government took matters into its own hands. 

After facing international backlash, Kenya eventually reversed its decision to close the camp. It's unclear if the government will follow through with its current closure plans. 

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