Kenya asks for refugee camps closure timeframe

UNHCR agrees to demands; country plays host to 512,494 refugees and asylum seekers

In Summary
  • UNHCR agreed to repatriate up to 100,000 refugees to other countries like USA, Canada, Ethiopia and South Sudan
  • 10,000 to Somalia, 5,000 to Ethiopia, 5,000 to South Sudan, and 3,500 to Burundi by end of 2021.
An aerial picture of Kakuma refugee camp. /FILE
An aerial picture of Kakuma refugee camp. /FILE

Kenya wants UNHCR to give a timeframe they will use in closing Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps.

The demands came after the refugee agency responded to the ultimatum for a roadmap on the closure of the camps over, among other issues, insecurity and environmental degradation.

Among others, UNHCR agreed to repatriate up to 100,000 refugees to other countries like USA, Canada, Ethiopia and South Sudan.

Kenya has now called for another meeting with UNHCR next week to deliberate on the way forward.

“We disagree on the timeframe because it is open-ended. We need a definite date on when these transfer will start and end,” said an official aware of the talks.

In the response to Kenya demands, the refugee agency said it is hosting 512,494 refugees and asylum seekers with 224,462 at Dadaab and 206,458 at Kakuma and Kalobeyei settlement and 81,574 in urban areas.

“The need to ensure additional support for sustainable reintegration in areas of return as well as transitional support for the relocation of non-Somali populations including Kenyans registered as refugees from Dadaab camp is another essential aspect,” said part of the response.

The agency was responding to a two-week ultimatum given by Interior CS Fred Matiang’i on March 23 that they come up with a roadmap to close the camps.

The agency says in its response delivered on April 7 it has to verify the identity of the refugees, an issue Kenya says has been done and is done after every three years in the past 30 years the camps have been here.

It also wants continuation of the deregistration process of Kenyans registered as refugees and review of existing individual return package.

UNHCR has proposed community-based reintegration support in priority return areas in the main countries of origin, alternative solutions for refugees and asylum seekers from the East African Community and solutions for refugees with protection concerns in third countries and in Kenya.

“Key elements of the roadmap include gradual consolidation of Dadaab, closure of camps within the complex and environmental restoration and conversion of Kakuma camps into an integrated settlement of EAC citizens willing to reside there under alternative stay arrangement and integration together with Kalobeyei into new Kakuma municipality in line with plan of Turkana County.”

UNHCR plans to relocate 10,000 to Somalia, 5,000 to Ethiopia, 5,000 to South Sudan, and 3,500 to Burundi by the end of this year.

Some 25,000 refugees will acquire residency status in EAC and settle 5,000 others in the US. However, due to lengthy security screening, no Somali departures are foreseen for 2021, the response says.

In Somalia and South Sudan, UNHCR will need increased presence in areas of return and expansion of facilities to host the staff and refugees. This can be done in 2022.

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

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

Two days after issuing the ultimatum, 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. They also met diplomats from the EAC over the same. The CS and his team delivered their message on plans to close the camps citing insecurity.

UNHCR, 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.

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 labelled as terrorist organisations have been hindered continuously.

-Edited by Sarah Kanyara