KAKUMA, KENYA – Kenya’s plan to close the two refugee camps, including the world’s largest, and send Somali refugees home has upset Somalia’s government and sparked fear among some who have sought shelter there.
“If we are chased away from this place I cannot go back home to Somalia,” said Momina Omar Semboka, 39, a refugee in Kakuma camp, who comes from Kismayo in southern Somalia.
“We are scared, we are not happy about this decision, we cannot go back home to our country. Al-Shebab are everywhere,” said Mwajuma Ramadhan Mwechiwa, 42, also from Kismayo, referring to the al-Qaida-linked militants who control territory in Somalia and operate in Kenya.
Kenya hosts around 600,000 refugees, some of whom have lived in the country for a quarter century.
It says it wants to close Kakuma in northwestern Kenya and Dadaab, in the east of the country, because they have become breeding grounds for al-Shebab and centers of crime and contraband.
On Thursday in Mogadishu, the authorities warned the move was likely to backfire by increasing the risk of insecurity.
Saying the government had “grave reservations,” the Somali foreign ministry said in a statement that “this decision will negatively affect the majority of Somali refugees.”
It “will make the threat of terrorism worse, not better, given the volatile situation this sudden decision and the proposed subsequent actions will cause,” it added.
Last week Kenyan officials announced a plan to refuse new refugee arrivals and to shut Dadaab on security grounds.
The camp, located on the Kenya-Somalia border, is home to around 350,000 people.
Kakuma hosts around 180,000 people, almost a third of them Somalis.
On Wednesday Interior Minister Joseph Ole Nkaissery said money had been set aside and a timetable for repatriating refugees and closing Dadaab was being drawn up.
“The refugees will be repatriated to their countries of origin or to third-party countries for resettlement,” Nkaissery said.
Aid agencies and the United Nations have reacted with dismay to the Kenyan plan.
Visiting Kakuma on Thursday, David Miliband, former U.K. foreign minister and head of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) charity, said refugees must not be forcibly returned to Somalia.
“Our own view is very strongly that the historic long-term international commitment that refugees should not be forcibly returned to their country of origin should be maintained,” Miliband said.
“Our position is not to be for or against camps, we are for or against dignity and human support for refugees,” he added.
Kenya has appointed a task force, due to report later this month, that will produce recommendations and a timeline for closing Dadaab.
Miliband said there must be “informed decision-making that respects the Kenyan perspective and also respects the rights of refugees who are, after all, the innocent victims of other people’s wars.”
The Somali authorities said there already existed a plan for the future “safe and dignified resettlement” of refugees in their home country.
“Abandoning this will be a legal and moral failing on the part of Kenya,” they said.
“Expelling vulnerable Somali refugees at a time Somalia is making internationally recognized progress towards stability and institution building, will only increase the risk of insecurity in the region.”
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