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Somali President asks Kenya to accommodate refugees, if the World’s Largest Refugee Camp ‘Dadaab’ shuts down

The Kenyan Government has already dissolved the Department of Refugee Affairs

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Dadaab
A recent family arrived in Dadaab. Image source: Wikipedia
  • 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.

Dadaab
Refugee Shelters in Dadaab. Image source: Wikimedia Commons

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.

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Hassan Sheikh Mohamud

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

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WHO Committee Warns About Ebola Outbreak in Congo

Ebola in Eastern DRC Remains Global Health Threat

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Medical workers lead a young girl with suspected Ebola into the unconfirmed Ebola patients ward run by The Alliance for International Medical Action (ALIMA). VOA

A World Health Organization Emergency Committee warns the Ebola outbreak in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo remains a global health threat despite significant progress in containing the spread of this deadly virus.   WHO reports a total of 3,431 cases of Ebola, including 2,253 deaths in North Kivu and Ituri provinces.

The Emergency Committee declared the outbreak in DRC a Public Health Emergency of International Concern, or PHEIC, last July.  In reviewing the current situation, members of the Committee decided it was premature to declare the global threat over.

WHO Director-General, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, says he accepts the Committee’s advice.

“As long as there is a single case of Ebola in an area as insecure and unstable as eastern DRC, the potential remains for a much larger epidemic,” he said.

WHO VOA
Director-General of the World Health Organization (WHO) Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus speaks during a news conference after a meeting of the Emergency Committee on the novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) in Geneva, Switzerland. VOA

WHO has revised its risk assessment from very high to high at national and regional levels, and low at the global level.  Last week, it reports only three new cases of the disease in North Kivu’s Beni Health Zone.  Tedros calls these signs extremely positive.

“But even as we near the end of this outbreak, we must act now to prevent the next one…Only half of health facilities have access to water.  Strengthening a health system may not be as sexy as responding to an outbreak, but it is equally important,” he said.

Tedros is traveling to DRC’s capital Kinshasa on Thursday.  The WHO chief says he will meet President Felix Tshisekedi and other senior ministers to explore ways to strengthen DRC’s health system.

Chair of the Emergency Committee, Robert Steffen explains why the group decided to maintain the PHEIC despite cautious optimism that the Ebola epidemic was winding down.

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“We do see a risk of some resurgence and also a risk of complacency if we would now suddenly abandon this PHEIC despite of the fact that we still occasionally still see new cases,” he said.

Another problem, Steffen says, is lack of money.  He says WHO needs $83 million to carry out its Ebola operation until June.  So far, less than half of the required amount has been received. (VOA)