Amnesty: Closure of refugee camps in Kenya will risk lives

Amnesty International warns the closure of the Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya is likely to put thousands of lives at risk.

Photo by: Reuters (Archive)
Photo by: Reuters (Archive)

File photo shows aerial view of Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

Amnesty International has warned that the Kenyan government’s decision to shut down two large refugee camps - including the one in the town of Dadaab, which is the largest refugee camp in the world - is likely to put thousands of innocent lives at risk.

"This reckless decision by the Kenyan government is an abdication of its duty to protect the vulnerable and will put thousands of lives at risk," said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

"It could lead to the involuntary return of thousands of refugees to Somalia and other countries of origin, where their lives may still be in danger. This would be in violation of Kenya’s obligations under international law."

Archive photo shows Somali refugees herding their goats at the Ifo refugee camp outside Dadaab, eastern Kenya, August 7, 2011.

The Kenyan government announced on May 6 that it will close the two refugee camps due to security and economic concerns.

"Due to Kenya's national security interest, the government has decided that hosting of refugees has to come to an end," Principal Secretary of the Ministry of Interior Karanja Kibicho declared.

"The government acknowledges that this decision will have adverse effects on the lives of refugees but Kenya will no longer be hosting them," he said.

Archive photo shows Somalis fleeing hunger in their drought-stricken nation and walking along the main road leading from the Somali border to the refugee camps around Dadaab, Kenya, July 13, 2011.

Kenya had hosted more than 600,000 refugees for over 25 years.

Kakuma refugee camp is home to at least 190,000 refugees who are mainly from South Sudan. It was constructed in 1992.

Dadaab refugee camp hosts more than 330,000 people mainly Somalis fleeing drought, famine, and fighting in their country.

It was set up by the United Nations in 1991, after a civil war erupted in Somalia following the fall of Mogadishu and overthrow of the central government.

Since then, an estimated 350,000 to 1,000,000 Somalis have died due to the resulting turmoil.

A schoolgirl sheds a tear after singing tribute songs for 22-year-old student Angela Nyokabi Githakwa, who was killed in the Garissa University College attack, during the funeral service in the village of Mutunguru, Kenya, April 10, 2015. (AP Archive)

The camp was scapegoated in 2015 after Al Shabab attacked Garissa University College in Kenya, killing almost 150 people and injuring more than 70 others.  

The Kenyan government threatened to close Daraab and to expel refugees to Somalia, accusing Al Shabab militants of hiding in the camp.

"The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa . . . We must secure this country at whatever cost," Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto said on April 11, 2015.

Amnesty International’s warning came after medical charity Doctors without Borders (MSF) asked the Kenyan government to reconsider its decision to shut down the refugee camps.

In a statement it released on Friday, the organisation said, "We are urging the government to continue to provide humanitarian assistance and ensure acceptable living conditions for the hundreds of thousands of people who desperately need it."

TRTWorld and agencies