Welcome back to Tuesday Newsday! This week’s report covers recent events in Kenya, where the government has attempted to close down two refugee camps – Dadaab and Kakuma – that are home to 44% and 40% of the country’s half a million population of refugees and asylum seekers, over half of whom are from Somalia.
At the end of March, the Kenyan government threatened to close both Dadaab and Kakuma, telling the UNHCR that it had 14 days to produce “a roadmap on definite closure of Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps”. This is not the first time the Kenyan government has tried to close the camps, previously claiming that terrorist activities were being planned there. While it didn’t provide an explanation this time, it has been suggested that worsening relations with Somalia were the cause. While the closure of both camps would be disastrous for refugees and asylum seekers in Kenya, the Covid-19 pandemic would naturally make the consequence of closure even more difficult to navigate.
The UNHCR pushed back against the ultimatum, urging Kenya to continue to provide protection to those in need. The Kenyan authorities stated that if the camps were not closed, they would take refugees to the Somalian border. The Dadaab camp was originally opened thirty years ago, becoming for a time the world’s largest refugee camp, hosting over 500,000 people fleeing violence and drought in Somalia.
Those living in the camps have spoken of their devastation upon hearing the news. One Kakuma resident, a 24-year-old from Somalia described Somalia as “an unstable country which is still experiencing terror attacks over and over again” and that Kakuma “has become a home to me, where I found peace.” Many refugees were born in the camps or have lived there for 20 or more years and do not know where they would go in the event of their closure. While it is important to not romanticise the camps, with refugees complaining of loss of freedoms and the level corruption, poor services, they have allowed access to business and educational opportunity.
Thankfully, the closure was temporarily halted by Kenya’s High Court following a petition by “former presidential aspirant Peter Gichira” who argued the closure would be unconstitutional. The case will be heard today (April 13th).
Written by Victoria Baines. Edited by Maya Thanky.