NAIROBI - Kenya is violating international law by forcing residents of the world's largest refugee camp to return to Somalia, an aid agency said on Monday.
Kenya insists the emptying of Dadaab -- home to hundreds of thousands of mostly Somali refugees -- is being carried out in line with international law but, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) said that "the voluntary returns process does not meet international standards".
This means Kenya could be guilty under international law of the forcible return of refugees or asylum seekers.
"The pressure to push more than 280,000 registered refugees from Dadaab camp has led to chaotic and disorganised returns," said NRC secretary-general Jan Egeland.
"From what we have seen on the ground, it is no longer voluntary, dignified nor safe."
The government announced in May that the vast Dadaab camp in northeast Kenya would be shut down, citing security concerns.
Authorities have repeatedly alleged that the camp is a breeding ground for Islamic terrorism but has not provided evidence to back the claims.
The NRC said that apart from the involuntary nature of the returns, the volatile security situation in Somalia means that refugees going back cannot be guaranteed protection while basic services there are inadequate.
"The number of vulnerable Somalis planned for return far outstrips the resources available to support them in Somalia," said NRC's Kenya country director Neil Turner.
Refugees are returning to a country that already has more than one million people uprooted from their homes, where five million lack enough food and where African and Somali forces are still fighting Al-Qaeda-aligned Shabaab militants.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has been criticised by rights groups for supporting what they also say is the involuntary return of Somali refugees. Last month Human Rights Watch (HRW) said repatriation was "fuelled by fear and misinformation".
Returning refugees to a place where their lives or freedoms are at risk is illegal under the 1951 Refugee Convention.