Kenyan Government Threatens To Close Dadaab Refugee Camp

Mar 28, 2019
Originally published on March 28, 2019 10:29 am
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Some other news now. Kenya is threatening to close one of the biggest refugee camps in the world, calling it a security risk. NPR's Eyder Peralta reports.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: This is not the first time Kenya has tried to close the Dadaab refugee camp, not far from the border with Somalia. In fact, it has been shuttling refugees out of the sprawling camp for years now. They've been moving refugees to other camps or sending them back home to Somalia.

But in 2017, a court found those plans violated the Kenyan constitution and the international rights of refugees. Maureen Elavisa works for the legal group Kituo cha Sheria which sued the government to stop the repatriation of refugees.

MAUREEN ELAVISA: This is not a shocker. With always every terrorist attack we have, it's always there. Our refugees are always being targeted.

PERALTA: She says this renewed effort by the government comes shortly after terrorists attacked a high-end hotel in Nairobi, leaving 21 people dead. Most of the refugees in Dadaab are of Somali descent, so the government says the camps have become an operating base for the Islamist group al-Shabab.

Of course, says Elavisa, national security is an important consideration, but there are still more than 200,000 people living in Dadaab. Most of them, she says, are legitimate refugees. Many are fleeing from the violence meted out by al-Shabab. The government, she says, must find a balance.

ELAVISA: If the refugees are not willing to go back, then sending them back by force again, we will just be going against our obligations that we owe to the international law.

PERALTA: In the letter obtained by the AFP, the U.N. Refugee Agency says it is committed to working with Kenya to voluntarily repatriate refugees. But the letter does not detail how that will happen. The Kenyan government did not immediately respond to our request for comment. Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.