Kenya is set to close Dadaab refugee camp, the world’s largest refugee settlement, setting adrift more than 300,000 refugees.
The Kenyan government says it’s closing the camp because of concerns over national security.
Dadaab Refugee Camp was opened in 1991 following civil war in Somalia. The refugees and asylum seekers mostly come from Somalia and other neighbouring countries like South Sudan.
The original intention was for the three Dadaab camps to host up to 90,000 people, but that number has burgeoned to more than 330,000 people and almost 60 per cent of the population are women and children.
In a statement, Kenyan interior minister, Joseph Nkaissery, said the camp had become a hosting ground for terrorist group Al Shabaab, as well as a centre for smuggling, contraband trade and illicit weapon proliferation.
Nkaissery said several large-scale attacks, such as the Westgate Shopping Mall attack, the Garissa University attack, and the Lamu Attack, had been planned and deployed from the Dadaab Refugee Camp.
“Some of these attacks were aimed at the interests of our international partners, yet Kenya continues to bear the brunt of these attacks on their behalf, with negligible support from them,” he said.
“Kenya cannot look aside and allow this threat to escalate any further.”
Nkaissery said to kick-start the repatriation process and closure of the refugee camp, the government had set aside US$10 million. He said a timetable for the repatriation process would be ready by, or before, May 31st.
World Vision, along with other NGOs including Oxfam, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee, has urged the Government of Kenya to reconsider the closure.
In a joint statement, the humanitarian agencies acknowledged the hospitality and responsibility the country had borne over decades but said the closure would have far reaching implications for the thousands who have called Kenya a place of refuge.
“Shutting down the refugee camps will mean increased protection risks for the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers – the majority of whom are women, children and unaccompanied minors,” they said.
“The current humanitarian situation in Somalia and South Sudan remains dire and fragile. Somalia is faced with drought and other security risks that are likely to see an increase in displacement and vulnerability.”
They said the humanitarian crisis was far from being over, and the closure would only exacerbate the crisis for the region, as neighbouring countries such as Uganda, Tanzania, and Ethiopia, are already shouldering huge refugee populations.