Kenya High Court to hear petition against closure of refugee camp

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Tents on the outskirts of Dagahaley refugee camp in Kenya's Dadaab refugee complex on 24 July 2011. The government's plan to close down the camp is being challenged.

NAIROBI – The High Court in Kenya will on Monday hear a petition filed by two civil society organisations challenging the government’s decision to close down the Dadaab refugee camp and disband the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA).

Amnesty International is participating in the proceedings as an interested party and has filed submissions on Kenya's obligations under international law to ensure the rights of asylum seekers and refugees.

The petition, filed by the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the legal aid organisation Kituo Cha Sheria, seeks to have the decision to close the camp declared unconstitutional.

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“The closure of Dadaab would be a disaster for the tens of thousands of refugees still living there who have nowhere else to go,” said Michelle Kagari, deputy director of the Amnesty International East Africa regional office.

“Their repatriation back to Somalia is not voluntary – they are being forced to return when the conditions that forced them to flee in the first place have not improved.

“We hope that this court action will prompt the Kenyan authorities to reconsider their decision and uphold their international obligations to protect refugees,” Kagari said in a statement.

The Kenyan government announced on 6 May that it was disbanding the DRA with immediate effect and would close the camp on 30 November.

More than 260,000 Somali refugees in the camp are to be repatriated the back to Somalia, despite the immense risks they would face.

Somalia has been ravaged by more than two decades of conflict. Fighting between government forces, supported by African Union troops, and Al-Shabaab militants has resulted in gross human rights violations against civilians and devastated basic services and infrastructure.