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Kenyan court keeps world’s largest refugee camp open

The government argues the camp is a hotbed for terrorism

Dabaab refugee camp Associated Press/Photo by Jerome Delay

Kenyan court keeps world’s largest refugee camp open

The Kenyan government said Thursday it plans to appeal a ruling by the High Court of Kenya blocking the government’s attempt to close the world’s largest refugee camp, even as international aid groups lauded the court’s decision.

Government spokesman Eric Kiraithe said Dadaab refugee camp has lost its humanitarian nature and become a haven for terrorists.

“Our interest in this case and in the closure of Dadaab refugee camp remains to protect the lives of Kenyans,” Kiraithe said. “It is for this reason that we shall be strongly appealing the decision by the High Court.”

Judge John Mativo ruled early Thursday that the Kenyan internal security minister abused his power by ordering the camp’s closure, declaring the order both discriminatory and unconstitutional. Mativo also ordered the government to re-establish its refugee department, which it shut down last year.

Dadaab refugee camp currently houses more than 250,000 refugees, mostly Somalis. The camp was set up in 1991 for those fleeing conflict in neighboring Somalia. At its peak, the camp housed nearly 500,000 people.

Kenya’s government initially announced it would shutdown the camp on Nov. 30, but delayed it for another six months on humanitarian grounds. The government said the camp serves as a recruitment base for the Islamic extremist group al-Shabaab. More than 50,000 Somali refugees voluntarily returned to Somalia in 2016, Kiraithe said.

Mutoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s East Africa director, called the ruling “historic.”

“Stopping the imminent closure of Dadaab refugee camp is an essential first step in respecting and protecting refugee rights in Kenya,” Wanyeki said. “Now Kenya and the international community must work towards finding alternative solutions for refugees, including local integration options.”

Kurt Tjoseem of the International Rescue Committee said the court made a sound ruling. Tjoseem recommended long-term solutions including voluntary repatriation, optional settlement in other countries, and more opportunities for the refugees to join the Kenyan society and support themselves.

Neil Turner, Kenya director of Norwegian Refugee Council, said he welcomed the ruling because it lifts the uncertainty many of the refugees faced.

“Today, there is an urgent need for Dadaab to remain open as the current drought and food crisis is devastating parts of Somalia and the prospects for a safe return of Somali refugees from Kenya is drastically diminished,” Turner said.

Onize Ohikere

Onize is WORLD’s Africa reporter. She is a World Journalism Institute graduate and earned a journalism degree from Minnesota State University–Moorhead. Onize resides in Abuja, Nigeria.



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