MATIANG'I DIRECTIVE

State defends order to close refugee camps

Says closure does not imply forcible return of refugees to their country of origin or habitual residence.

In Summary

• According to the court documents, the government is within its rights to ensure that a country-specific framework containing mechanisms and protocol for the closure of camps exists and is available if and when necessary to guide any process of closure which is in the interests of all stakeholders.

Kakuma Refugee Camp in Turkana
Kakuma Refugee Camp in Turkana
Image: HESBORN ETYANG

The government has defended its move to close two refugee camps hosting more than 400,000 people.

In response to a petition filed by former presidential aspirant Peter Gichira, acting Commissioner of Refugee Affairs Kodek Makori said the closure of a camp does not imply the forcible return of refugees to their country of origin or habitual residence.

He said what should be of concern is the manner in which such closure is conducted.

Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i on March 24 issued the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees with a 14-day ultimatum for closure of Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps.

Gichira subsequently moved to court arguing that the government’s decision to close the two camps was unconstitutional. He was granted temporary relief by Justice Anthony Mrima who suspended the enforcement of the directive.

Kodek in his replying affidavit said the closure of Dadaab and Kakuma camp does not breach any principles of international law or protection.

“Gichira has failed to establish that the closure of the camp signifies the forceful return of the refugees. In any event, refugee camps have a natural cycle that revolves around planning and the establishment, care and maintenance and eventual closure of the camps,” he said.

According to the court documents, the government is within its rights to ensure that a country-specific framework containing mechanisms and protocol for the closure of camps exists and is available if and when necessary to guide any process of closure which is in the interests of all stakeholders.

“UNHCR has within its operational framework, guidelines for camp phase-out and closure that take into account aspects such as environmental concerns and rehabilitation, coordination and resource mobilization,” read the court papers.

 The government claims that Gichira has misdirected the court to the extent that the impugned directive specifically provided an ultimatum for the closure of refugee camps in the country and in particular Kakuma and Dadaab.