- Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee camp with over 3,00,000 inhabitants
- Kenya plans to shut down this camp citing economic and security concerns
- This move is widely criticized by human rights groups
Dadaab is a town situated in eastern Kenya which serves as a group of refugee camps which collectively form the largest in the world. Among the many camps that this town harbors, Dagahaley, Hagadera and Ifo are the oldest (built in 1992) and most prominent. As a second wave of refugees arrived owing to large droughts in East Africa, camps of Ifo II and Kambioos were constructed which held a capacity of around 130,000 refugees. In total, Dadaab houses 300,000 refugees, most of whom had fled Somalia in the past due to unstable political conditions and constant civil wars.
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After the mass massacre in Garissa University in April 2015, the deputy president of Kenya had announced the closure of Dadaab refugee camps. In a country that was gripped with fears of a plummeting economy and dwindling natural resources, this attack by the militant group Al-Shabab which took lives of 148 university students shook the whole country with grief and sorrow.
Government officials suspected that this terrorist activity originated in those Somali refugee camps, and hence must be shut down to diminish the Kenyans’ security concerns. The Kenyan government, which had announced it would ensure this camp shut down within three months, softened its stance on this matter later, as the camp remains functional to this day.
Although seemingly justified, this move was widely criticized by human rights groups. Human Rights Watch, in its statement, said there was “no credible evidence” that terrorist groups had evolved from refugee settlements.
Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s regional director in East Africa, told The Independent, “This reckless decision by the Kenyan government is an abdication of its duty to protect the vulnerable and will put thousands of lives at risk.
“It could lead to the involuntary return of thousands of refugees to Somalia and other countries of origin, where their lives may still be in danger. This would be in violation of Kenya’s obligations under international law.”
Despite all of these criticisms, Kenya reiterated in April this year that it had serious plans to shut down Dabaab, as problems for the country had only worsened since last year. Somalia’s president, Hassan Sheikh Mohamud, became the first Somali president to visit the refugee town this week. Somalia will be one of the most affected countries if Dabaab indeed settles down in the near future.
In his speech, President Hassan Sheikh Mohamud ensured the refugees he would make arrangements for basic services such as food and shelter upon their return home to Somalia. It is however, unclear who would fund these arrangements.
Kenyan Interior Secretary Joseph Nkaissery confirmed his government’s intention to shut down the 25-year-old complex, disregarding serious requests from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, to maintain its existence.
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“Kenya is committed to close the camp,” Nkaissery said. “It is a decision we have already reached and we will jointly collaborate with the Somali government and the UNHCR on your safe return”, addressing the refugees. Supporting its decision, Kenya has already dissolved the Department of Refugee Affairs.
Kenya, however would not impose involuntary exit of refugees from its borders. Even as it plans to shut down Dadaab, Kenya is committed to the principles that its constitution is based on. Hence, government officials have said that in close cooperation with UN agencies and the Somali government, they would facilitate a safe and voluntary return of refugees to their home countries.
-by Saurabh Bodas (with inputs from VOA), an intern at NewsGram. Twitter: @saurabhbodas96