| 28 February 2024, Wednesday |

Kenya orders closure of 2 refugee camps, gives ultimatum to UN agency

Kenya ordered on Wednesday the shutdown of two sprawling camps that host hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighboring Somalia and gave the U.N. refugee agency (UNHCR) two weeks to submit a plan to do so, the interior ministry said.

The Kakuma and the Dadaab refugee camps in northern Kenya together host over 410,000 people, a small proportion of whom are from South Sudan.

Authorities in Nairobi first announced their intention to close the Dadaab camp, which is closer to the border with Somalia than Kakuma, back in 2016, citing national security concerns.

Fred Matiang’i, the interior minister, has now given the UNHCR 14 days to draw up a plan for the shutdown of both Dadaab and Kakuma, his ministry wrote on Twitter, noting that there was no room for further talks on the matter.

UNHCR urged Kenya to ensure that those who need protection continue to get it, and vowed to keep engaging in a dialogue.

“The decision would have an impact on the protection of refugees in Kenya, including in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” it announced in a statement.

Somali authorities did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

The Kenyan cabinet’s attempt to shut Dadaab in 2016 was informed by intelligence reports revealing two large attacks on Kenyan targets in 2013 and 2015 that took place with the involvement of elements in the camps. The plan was blocked by the high court, which called the move unconstitutional.

The camp was set up three decades ago and was once the world’s largest refugee camp, which at its peak hosted more than half a million people fleeing drought and violence in Somalia.

Kakuma, located in the northwest, is home to over 190,000 refugees, some drawn from neighboring South Sudan.

On Tuesday, Kenyan authorities informed UNCHR it would take the refugees to the border with Somalia if the camps are not shut, the Daily Nation newspaper said. The interior ministry told Reuters that the reporting was accurate.

Kenya’s move comes as ties with Somalia worsen, after Mogadishu cut diplomatic relations with Nairobi last December, accusing it of meddling in its internal affairs.

The two nations are also facing off at the International Court of Justice over a maritime boundary dispute, although Kenya has boycotted the hearing of the case.

  • Reuters