REFUGEES

No word on refugee camps' closure ultimatum as Amnesty says move will cause disaster

Amnesty said here is no evidence of an escalated security risk arising from the camps in April 2021.

In Summary
  • Closure  without an orderly approach that respects refugee rights invites a humanitarian disaster within the global Covid-19 pandemic
  • International community continues to undermine Kenya’s capacity to provide safety and sanctuary for refugees by inadequate humanitarian funding.
An aerial picture of Kakuma refugee camp. /FILE
An aerial picture of Kakuma refugee camp. /FILE

Thursday marks the end of a two-week ultimatum that Kenya issued to the UNHCR to come up with a roadmap on the closure of two refugee camps.

Officials say there has been little discussions between the parties involved since the ultimatum was issued and that they expect an extension from the government side.

This is due to among others restrictions issued by the government over Covid-19 pandemic.

“You know the these restrictions affected many operations in government including us,” said an official who asked not to be named.

Kenya had on March 23 told UNHCR to announce a plan for the closure of the Dadaab and Kakuma refugees' camp within two weeks.

Amnesty International Kenya said the ultimatum has recreated the fear that the principle of non-refoulement may be violated for the 500,000 refugees currently hosted by Kenya.

The agency said here is no evidence of an escalated security risk arising from the camps in April 2021.

Furthermore, AI added, the circumstances within the region has not improved significantly for most refugees to safely return to their countries of origin nor have other countries come forward to resettle them.

“Conflict in Somalia and Ethiopia, pre and post-election violence in Uganda and Tanzania as well as the persecution of LGBTI+ communities in Uganda and elsewhere makes voluntary return safe and dignified untenable for most refugees,” said AI Kenya Executive Director Irũngũ Houghton.

“Closure of Dadaab and Kakuma camps without an orderly approach that respects refugee rights invites a humanitarian disaster within the global COVID-19 pandemic.”

He added the international community continues to undermine Kenya’s capacity to provide safety and sanctuary for refugees by inadequate humanitarian funding.

He told wealthier countries led by the new US administration to also fairly share responsibility by expanding adequate opportunities for third-country resettlement, mass Covid-19 vaccination programs and encourage calls by communities to host refugees.

“Rather than persecuting refugees, the Government of Kenya can use its influence at the UN Security Council to demand that the international community shoulder its fair share of the responsibility to protect refugees,” said Houghton.

He added instead of a rushed decampment program, Kenya and UNHCR must also consider reviewing the encampment approaching line with regional and international best practices.

“Long-term camps deprive thousands of men, women and children of their dignity and reduce them to dependents of humanitarian aid.”

Houghton said local integration and self-reliance policies and programs are needed now to deliver the Governments’ Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework (CRRF).

“The Government of Kenya must not abandon its history as a sanctuary nation in the middle of a pandemic or a diplomatic dispute with the Government of Somalia. Instead, it must use its international leadership on the UN Security Council to advocate for more resources and opportunities for both host nations and refugees,” he added.

Two days after issuing the ultimatum, interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i held a meeting with 25 development partners mission in Nairobi on refugee rights consideration.

The partners included the UN, World Bank and IMF representatives respectively. The meeting was held virtually. Foreign affairs CS Raychell Omamo attended the meeting. The CS and his team delivered their message on plans to close the camps citing insecurity.

UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency then, urged the Kenya government to ensure that any decisions on the Dadaab and Kakuma camps allow for suitable and sustainable solutions to be found.

Kenya is citing national security threats posed by some of the refugees, including past terror attacks that have been linked to accomplices of the Somali-based Al-Shabaab militant group within the camps.

The complex situation has left the government torn between its domestic duties and international obligations, some of which are binding and can attract consequences.

However, the UN agency is now calling for consideration of those who live in the camps for need of protection and pledge to keep engaging in a dialogue.

“UNHCR is concerned about the impact this decision would have on the protection of refugees in Kenya, including in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. We will continue our dialogue with the Kenyan authorities on this issue,” a statement from the agency said in part.

The refugee agency promised to support Kenya in its efforts of hosting the refugees.

“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 statement added.

The statement added UNHCR has been informed by the Kenyan authorities of their intention to close Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps within a short time frame.

Apart from the terror issue, the government team said Kenya’s efforts to have the have war-torn areas where Al Shabaab operates in Somalia to be labeled as terrorist organizations have been hindered continuously.

It comes at a time when there is an ongoing maritime case with Somalia which Kenya has accused the International Court of Justice of failure to honour its request to have the new team of lawyers prepare sufficiently for the case.

The number of refugees from Somalia is over 274,000 which is the largest compared to those from South Sudan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Rwanda and Uganda amongst other neighbouring countries.