GENEVA – The fate of hundreds of thousands of refugees in Kenya hangs on the balance as UN officials try to dissuade Kenyan authorities from closing two camps many have called home over the past three decades.
The Kenyan government announced its intention to close the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps on March 24th. She gave the UN refugee agency two weeks to work out a timetable for the resettlement of the 430,000 residents of the two sprawling camps. Most of them come from Somalia. This deadline expired on Thursday.
However, the refugees and the UNHCR received a last minute reprieve. News organizations and activists report that the Kenyan Supreme Court suspended the government’s closure order for 30 days on Thursday.
UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch said his agency was deeply concerned about the impact the closure of the camps in Kenya would have on the needs of the refugees, including their need for protection from the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We are in constant dialogue with the authorities on this matter and have asked them to ensure that appropriate and sustainable solutions are found in decisions and that those who continue to need protection as refugees can receive these according to Kenya’s national and international obligations “, he said.
A statement from the UNHCR office in Nairobi recognized the generosity shown by the Kenyan people and government to the refugees for many decades.
FILE – An aerial view shows houses in the Kakuma refugee camp in the Turkana district, northwest of Kenya’s capital Nairobi, June 20, 2015.
“The statement said that UNHCR has proposed a number of sustained and rights-based measures to the Kenyan government to find solutions for refugees in the Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps,” Baloch said. “We have heard the concerns of the Kenyan government and hope that these measures represent a significant step forward in accelerating the aforementioned sustainable solutions for all parties involved.”
The UNHCR plan includes a provision to increase the voluntary return of refugees, taking into account the restrictions imposed by COVID-19. It is proposed that some East African refugees remain in Kenya and become independent and contributing members of society.
The plan also provides for the relocation of refugees to third countries who would run life-threatening risks if they were returned to their countries of origin.