EVACUATION NOTICE

Why refugee repatriation is untimely

The economic consequences of closing the camps should be examined too

In Summary

• Kenya has a mandate to undertake the repatriation process in a manner that guarantees safety and protection of the dignity of refugees. 

• According to the terms of the Convention, Kenya is legally obligated to facilitate post-arrival settlement of refugees leaving its territory.

Kakuma refugee camp.
Kakuma refugee camp.
Image: FILE

Interior CS Fred Matiang’i issued a 14-day ultimatum to UN High Commission for Refugees to work on a repatriation road map that would culminate in the closure of Daadab and Kakuma refugee camps. Matiang’i cited security as the main driver.

However, the closure of these camps, which have been in existence for two decades, would be untimely. First, the public health crisis occasioned by the pandemic would make the process difficult and costly.

As a signatory to the Refugee Convention of 1951, Kenya has a mandate to undertake the repatriation process in a manner that guarantees safety and protection of the dignity of refugees. 

According to the terms of the Convention, Kenya is legally obligated to facilitate post-arrival settlement of refugees leaving its territory. The government could use that money to address the health crisis in the country. 

Following the Garissa University attack in 2014, Kenya, through the office of the Deputy President, issued a three-month notice after which the camps would be closed. By then, the UNHCR challenged mass repatriation and considered that large-scale returns were still not possible in many parts of Somalia, in particular to South Central Somalia. This remains the case as the country is still grappling with security issues. The organisation opted for a pilot project of repatriating those willing to go back to safe areas such as Kismayu.

The case is no different in South Sudan, which still faces an insurgency in the south of the country and rampant localised violence. Ethno-political tensions remain high and could be unleashed again by the next presidential election, which was originally scheduled for 2022 but is likely to be delayed. This is after the falling between President Salva Kiir and Vice President Riek Machar, which is detrimental to the stability of the country. making it impossible to have the Kakuma refugees go back.

The presence of the camp is also a boost to the marginalised areas in northern Kenya. The economic consequences of closing the camps should be examined too. An increase in an area’s population has continuously led to a rise in demand for goods and services.

Refugees also increase a region’s workforce, and producers can take advantage of the cheap labour supply. The economic impact of refugee camps often outlasts the existence of these camps. And it lasts even after the refugees have returned home.

The writer is a communication student at Multimedia University of Kenya

(Edited by V. Graham)