Kenya camps with 400,000 refugees to be closed next year

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NAIROBI, Kenya (AP) — Kenya wants two refugee camps which hosts hundreds of thousands of refugees from war-torn countries closed by June 30 next year, the government said Thursday.

The announcement followed a meeting between Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi about the status of the two refugee camps where 433,765 refugees and asylum-seekers live. Most of the people at the two camps are from Somalia and South Sudan.

“A joint team comprising officials from the Kenyan government and the (U.N. Refugee) agency will therefore be formed to finalize and implement a road map on the next steps towards a humane management of refugees in both camps,” a joint statement said.

Earlier this month, UNHCR presented Kenya with what it said were “sustainable rights-based measures” for finding solutions for the refugees’ long-standing displacement.

This followed a two-week ultimatum given by Kenya’s interior minister for the agency to come up with a road map to close the decades-old camps.

The push by Kenya’s government to shut down the camps sooner has been blocked after the High Court issued the temporary order, which will run for 30 days, after former presidential aspirant Peter Gichira filed a legal challenge seeking to block closure of the two camps.

UNHCR’s “sustainable and rights-based measures” to find solution for displacement of the refugees include voluntary return for refugees in safety and dignity, departures to third countries under various arrangements, and alternative stay options in Kenya for certain refugees from East African Community, or EAC, countries.

“We are serious about completing the repatriation program which we started in 2016, in full view of our international obligations and our domestic responsibility. We therefore reiterate our earlier position to close both Dadaab and Kakuma camps by 30th of June, 2022,” Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i said, according to the statement.

“I believe that the government and people of Kenya will continue to show their generous hospitality towards refugees as they have done for nearly three decades, while we carry on discussions on a strategy to find the most durable, appropriate and rights-based solutions for refugees and asylum-seekers residing in the refugee camps in Dadaab and Kakuma,” Grandi said.

Refugees from East African countries will be given the option of being issued a work permit for free so that they can integrate into Kenyan communities or return to their country of origin, Matiang’i said.

Kenya has said the Dadaab refugee camp near the Somalia border is a source of insecurity. Some officials have argued that it has been used as a recruiting ground for the jihadi rebels of al-Shabab and a base for launching violent attacks inside Kenya, but officials haven’t provided conclusive proof.

A Kenyan court in 2017 blocked the closure of Dadaab camp, saying it wasn’t safe for refugees to return to Somalia.

Kenya has been saying for years that it would like to close Daadab, near Kenya’s eastern border with Somalia and which hosts nearly 200,000 mostly Somali refugees.

The Kenyan government’s latest demand is seen as retaliation against Somalia for insisting on pursuing a case at the International Court of Justice over a disputed maritime border between the two countries. Kenya wants the case settled out of court.

Kakuma camp in Kenya’s northeast has nearly 200,000 refugees, mostly South Sudanese nationals escaping civil war.

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