The Kenyan Interior Ministry’s announcement last week that it would close two large camps has increased insecurity for hundreds of thousands of refugees and disturbed many of them.
“I’m not ready to be returned to Somalia,” said an angry Muslim Abdullahi, an 80-year-old woman who lives in Hagadera, part of the Dadaab refugee complex in northeastern Kenya.
“I have nine orphaned children here,” she added. Years ago, terrified of insecurity, she left her home and is cautious about returning now. “My house has been taken. I have no property or livestock. I don’t have a job ahead of me. I’m not ready for the repatriation process.”
Ready or not, Kenya’s government says they and other refugees will have no choice but to leave the country. On March 24, Interior Minister Fred Matiangi announced that Kenya had given the UN Refugee Agency 14 days to present a plan to close the Dadaab and Kakuma camps.
Kenya orders the closure of two refugee camps and gives UNHCR deadline for instructions
More than 410,000 refugees live in the Dadaab, Kakuma camps, many of whom fled conflict in Somalia
There would be “no room for further negotiations,” said Matiangi’s official Twitter account.
CS @FredMatiangi provides UNHCR with a 14-day ultimatum to create a roadmap for the final closure of the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. Says no room for further negotiation. pic.twitter.com/8z3yLMjzgD
– Ministry of the Interior (@InteriorKE) March 24, 2021
The Dadaab and Kakuma camps, both in northern Kenya, house more than 410,000 refugees and asylum seekers. More than half of their population is from Somalia and around a quarter from South Sudan. The rest come from the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan and other parts of the region.
Camp Kakuma and Dadaab, Kenya
Abdullahi Osman Haji was one of the first refugees who came to Dadaab almost 30 years ago and was driven out of Somalia by the civil war. He got married in the camp and raised 12 children there. He longs for Somalia, but believes this is unrealistic given its fragile government and the ongoing threat from al-Shabab terrorist attacks.
“Closing the camps will have [an] negative impact on us, “Haji said of refugees.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) shares this concern. She issued a statement last week saying the decision would “affect the protection of refugees in Kenya, including in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic”.
UNHCR agreed to assist the Kenyan government in stepping up ongoing efforts “to find solutions that are orderly, sustainable and respect the rights of refugees”.
Kenya’s announcement came with no explanation as to why it is now seeking to close the camps. VOA made repeated but unsuccessful attempts to obtain comment from Kenyan officials.
FILE – An aerial photo shows part of the Hagadera camp in Dadaab near the Kenya-Somalia border.
The Nairobi government called for the closure of Dadaab in 2016 after intelligence reports indicated that two large al-Shabab attacks in 2013 and 2015 involved participants from the camp, but no evidence was released that the camps were infected with al-Shabab. Connect Shabab. The Kenyan High Court ruled in early 2017 that the camp’s closure was unconstitutional.
Somalia’s ambassador to Kenya, Mohamud Ahmed Nur, accuses Kenya of politicizing refugee issues. He claims that Kenya’s ultimatum to the camps was “due to the maritime dispute”.
This year-long frontier disagreement is control of a 100,000 square kilometer stretch of the Indian Ocean that contains an abundance of fish in its waters and potential oil and gas reserves. The case went to the Hague-based International Court of Justice (ICJ) in mid-March, despite Kenya refusing to attend the week-long hearing. It could take months for the ICJ, the United Nations’ highest court, to come to a decision.
UN court opens hearing on maritime disputes without Kenya
The Kenyan government withdrew from a long-awaited hearing over a maritime dispute with Somalia
Aden Barre Duale, a lawmaker and former majority leader in the Kenyan National Assembly and an ethnic Somali, believes the maritime dispute may have been a factor in his government’s call for the camp to be closed. But he does not support the measure.
“This case is not legal and not feasible,” said Duale.
It represents the northeastern Kenyan area in which Dadaab is located. Its constituents and “their leaders, religious leaders … have no problems with the Somali community.”
Both Dadaab and Kakuma camps opened in the 1990s and provide shelters managed by UNHCR for people fleeing civil war and conflict in Somalia and Sudan. Another wave of Somalis came to Kenya in 2011, displaced from their homeland by drought and rising to nearly half a million. The number of refugees in Dadaab fell to the current level of 230,000 following a 2013 agreement between Kenya, Somalia and the UNHCR to support the voluntary return of refugees to Somalia.
FILE – Somali refugee families are waiting to be flown to Kismayo, Somalia on December 19, 2017 on the runway of the Dadaab refugee camp in northern Kenya as part of a voluntary return program.
UNHCR refugee programs in Kenya and elsewhere are facing insufficient funding, Glenn Jusnes, a UNHCR Kenya spokesman, told VOA in an email response.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated already urgent humanitarian needs around the world – particularly in low- and middle-income countries that currently house more than 85% of the world’s refugees,” he wrote.
The associated economic slowdown has hurt. In the 2020 calendar year, UNHCR Kenya received $ 94 million – around $ 70 million less than it was aiming for, Jusnes said. For 2021, by March 9, it had received approximately $ 33 million, leaving a funding gap of more than $ 116 million.
Globally, the UNHCR’s 2020 budget was over $ 9.1 billion but received around $ 5.2 billion, resulting in a funding gap of 43%, Jusnes said. He noted that the underfunding limits the protection, support and resilience activities of the UNHCR.
In Kenya, infrastructure and road improvement projects at the Kakuma refugee camp and the nearby Kalobeyei settlement were halted in early 2020 instead of channeling aid to refugees and host communities, Jusnes said.
While Kenya plans to close the camps, residents of Dadaab and Kakuma say they have no safe alternatives.
Shamsa Mohamed Aden was among the refugees who voluntarily returned to Kismayo, his southeast Somali hometown, in 2017. But he and his household, including four children, “couldn’t get the basics of life like education and clean water.”
You recently returned to Hagadera, a camp in the Dadaab refugee complex, and Aden is reluctant to return. He said of himself, “All Shamsa can do is wait again for UNHCR to help.”
This report is from VOA’s Somali Service. Harun Maruf reported from Washington; and stringers Abdiaziz Barrow and Khadar Hared contributed from Mogadishu and Nairobi, respectively. Abdiweli Mohamed Ali reported from the Dadaab refugee camp.