• The commission on Wednesday said the move would impact the protection of refugees in the country, including in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
• Matiangi said if the two weeks lapse without the UNHCR taking any action, the government is set to have the refugees deported back to their countries of origin.
The United Nations Human Rights Commission now says a move by the government to close the Kakuma and Dadaab camps will have a great impact on the refugees.
The commission on Wednesday said the move would impact the protection of refugees in the country, including in the context of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic.
The statement comes hours after Interior CS Fred Matiangi ordered the closure of the two sprawling camps that host hundreds of thousands of refugees from neighbouring Somalia.
The CS gave the UN refugee agency an ultimatum of 14 days to present a plan to do so.
“There is no room for negotiation. We must strike a balance between Kenya’s international obligation and her domestic duties. We do have a domestic responsibility to protect Kenya,” read part of Matiangi's letter to the agency.
Matiangi cited terror threats as the main reason for its latest request and neglect by other countries to aid in managing the over 500,000 refugees.
According to the CS, the Mpeketoni, Lamu, Garrisa and Westgate attacks were planned and executed from the said refugee camps.
He also cited the smuggling of contraband from Somalia as being the main source of funding terrorism activities despite the governments’ effort to cab illegal trading within the borders.
Matiangi said if the two weeks lapse without the UNHCR taking any action, the government is set to have the refugees deported back to their countries of origin.
About 500,000 families living in the two camps would be affected by the move.
But UNHCR in their response said they were grateful to the Kenyan government for generously hosting the refugees and asylum-seekers for several decades.
"We recognise the impact this generosity has had. We will continue our dialogue with Kenyan authorities on this issue," read part of the statement.
The agency said the government should however ensure that any decisions allow for suitable and sustainable solutions to be found and that those who continue to need protection are able to receive it.
"UNHCR stands ready to support the government of Kenya in continuing and further strengthening the work that is ongoing to find solutions that are orderly, sustainable and respect refugee rights," the agency said.
The Kenya National Commission on Human Rights-KNCHR- said it maintains that security policies and practices must be consistent with human rights standards and principles in keeping with Article 238(2)b of the Constitution.
Chief Executive Officer and Secretary to the Commission Bernard Mogesa said the commission acknowledges Kenya's legitimate security concerns and appreciates the ongoing efforts by the government to combat insecurity especially terrorism.
"KNCHR holds this position and that Kenya must uphold all its obligations under national, regional and international human rights law especially the principle of non-refoulment which protects asylum seekers and refugees from being returned to places where their lives or freedoms could be threatened," Mogesa said.
The CEO said the principle of nonrefoulement is core to the international refugee protection regime and is a customary norm of the international law to which Kenya is a signatory.
"The commission wishes to remind the government of the judgment in the constitutional petition ... where the courts held that closing the camps and collectively repatriating refugees would be a grave violation to the Constitution," he said.
Kenya has been planning to shut the two camps since 2016 on grounds that the Somalia-based al Shabaab militants were using them as bases to plan attacks across the country.
The High Court however blocked the move in 2017, saying it was unconstitutional and violated Kenya’s international obligations.
In 2019, the government made other orders to close the two camps again.
UNHCR was given a deadline of six months to move the refugees.
“UNHCR is aware of the renewed call by the Government of Kenya to close Dadaab and is working with the government to continue to implement long-term and sustainable solutions for over 210,000 refugees living in the camp,” UNHCR responded in a statement.
According to the agency, these included voluntary returns, third-country solutions such as resettlement, sponsorship, family reunifications and labour migration, as well as relocations in Kenya, including at Kakuma refugee camp and Kalobeyei Settlement.
But human rights groups criticized the renewed push saying it threatened the rights and safety of the mostly Somali refugees, who could be forced to return home.
A story ran by Reuters indicated that by 2019 UNHCR had helped almost 83,000 people return to Somalia voluntarily since 2015.
But the number of returnees dropped in 2018 to about 7,500 compared to about 35,500 in 2017 and 34,000 in 2016.
The latest move comes amid deteriorating diplomatic ties between Nairobi and Mogadishu.
Mogadishu last December announced it had cut its ties with Nairobi over what it termed as Nairobi's interference with its internal affairs.
The two nations are also facing off at the International Court of Justice over a maritime boundary dispute which Kenya pulled out last minute citing bias from the presiding judges.