Human rights groups slam Kenya over refugee camps' shut down

WEB_ONLINE_DADAAB_09_05_2016

An overview of the part of the eastern sector of the IFO-2 camp in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp, north of the Kenyan capital Nairobi seen on April 28, 2015.

An overview of the part of the eastern sector of the IFO-2 camp in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp, north of the Kenyan capital Nairobi seen on April 28, 2015.

WEB_ONLINE_DADAAB_09_05_2016

An overview of the part of the eastern sector of the IFO-2 camp in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp, north of the Kenyan capital Nairobi seen on April 28, 2015.

An overview of the part of the eastern sector of the IFO-2 camp in the sprawling Dadaab refugee camp, north of the Kenyan capital Nairobi seen on April 28, 2015.

NAIROBI – Human rights organisations have slammed Kenya over its announcement to shut down refugee camps in Dadaab and Kakuma.

The government of Kenya has disbanded the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA), which processes refugee registration within Kenya and will close at least two large refugee camps within its borders.

Dr Eng Karanja Kibicho, interior ministry principal secretary, announced that the government would no longer host refugees and would close refugee camps “within the shortest time possible” because of “immense security challenges”.

In a statement that has received harsh criticism from international human rights organisations, Dr Kibicho stated that the government of Kenya had shouldered heavy economic, security and environmental burdens by hosting refugees for over 25 years.

Kibicho explained that the move to shut down the camps came in the wake of security challenges such as Al Shabaab and other related terror groups that hosting of refugees has continued to pose to Kenya.

“The Government of Kenya acknowledges that this decision will have adverse effects on the lives of refugees and therefore the international community must collectively take responsibility on humanitarian needs that will arise out of this action,” said Kibicho.

He said currently Kenya was hosting over 600,000 refugees in the Dadaab and Kakuma camps.

Kibicho’s statement was backed by Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed who defended the government’s move to close the refugee camps in the country.

Mohamed said the burden of hosting refugees was too heavy for Kenyan taxpayers.

Kibicho alluded to the November 2013 tripartite agreement signed between the Governments of Kenya and Somalia, and the UNHCR, setting out a framework for the voluntary return of refugees to Somalia.

Reacting to the news, Human Rights Watch (HRW), said that Kenya’s announcement that it would no longer host refugees was contrary to principles it has pledged to respect.

“In a single breath, the Kenyan government recognises that the Somalis it has been hosting for nearly 25 years are still refugees, but then states it’s finished with them,” said Bill Frelick, refugee rights program director at Human Rights Watch.

“Kenya should not turn its back on people needing protection and on fundamental principles that it has pledged to respect.”

HRW said that Kenya was home to over 463,000 Somali refugees who fled insecurity and fighting, including by the Islamist armed group Al Shabaab, which was at war with the government of Somalia. Human Rights Watch said many Somalis had experienced Al Shabaab’s brutal abuses, including forced child recruitment and suicide attacks.

In recent years, Al Shabaab has also carried out a string of attacks on civilians in Kenya, including killing at least 148 people at Garissa University in April 2015.

Kenya sent military forces into Somalia in late 2011 to stem the terror activities of Somali militant groups such as Al Shabaab. Since then, Kenya has suffered a series of attacks blamed on Somali militant sympathisers.

“Despite the Kenyan government’s frequent statements that Somali refugees in Kenya are responsible for Kenya’s insecurity, officials have not provided credible evidence linking Somali refugees to any terrorist attacks in Kenya. Human Rights Watch is not aware of convictions of Somali refugees in connection with any attack in Kenya,” said HRW.

“The threat Al Shabaab poses in Somalia and Kenya is real, but that doesn’t negate Kenya’s obligation to abide by international refugee law,” Frelick said, adding “Rather than abandon people it still recognises as refugees, the Kenyan government should appropriately prosecute those people who have committed crimes and maintain efforts to protect refugees according to international standards.”

Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes, Muthoni Wanyeki described the move by the Kenyan government as a “reckless decision” and “an abdication of its duty to protect the vulnerable”.

“While it is true that resettlement to third countries has been slow, Kenya should itself consider permanent solutions towards the full integration of refugees, some of whose stay in Kenya is now over generations,” said Wanyeki, adding that “forced return to situations of persecution or conflict is not an option”.

According to information from the Kenya Ministry of Interior, only 45,000 refugees had left Kenya voluntarily in the past two years. Over the past 25 years, Somali refugees sought refuge in Kenya fleeing war and famine. Their population has grown to an estimated 350,000 people, more than half the population of the entire refugee community in Kenya, said the the UNHCR.

UNHCR said it had identified eight areas in Somalia, where most of the refugees came from, and where they would be hosted upon repatriation. In December 2014, a pilot scheme was launched to support people who sought to voluntarily repatriate to one of three relatively safe areas of Somalia, namely Luuq, Baidoa and Kismayo.

UNHCR’s Kakuma Operation in north-eastern Kenya has recorded a steady increase in new arrivals from South Sudan. The Sudanese refugees cite insecurity, intense famine and the high cost of living as the reasons for their flight.

Dadaab, is arguably the world’s largest refugee camp and is situated in the north east of Kenya. It is about 100 km from Garissa Town, where 148 people, including 142 students, were murdered at the Garissa University in April 2015. The militant Islamist group, Al Shabaab, claimed responsibility for the attack.

Documented information showed that the government of Somalia does not have effective control over many parts of south and central Somalia.

UNHCR says that under international law, states are prohibited from forcibly returning people to a place where they would be at real risk of human rights violations. This is known as the principle of non-refoulement. Kenya is a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 Organisation of African Unity Refugee Convention. Refugees are also protected under the Kenya Refugee Act 2006 from forcible return to countries where their safety is not guaranteed and they may face persecution.