Closing Dadaab

closing dadaab

TGR | 26 May 2016 |

Dadaab is home to more than 350,000 refugees. After twenty-five years Kenya is set on closing Dadaab and vowed to send the refugees back to Somalia or to other countries, which leaves the international community with one more mass refugee movement to embrace.

Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee camp. The camp opened in 1991 and although it was intended to be a temporary shelter, for the last quarter of a century it has housed hundreds of thousands who fled to Kenya escaping rape, arbitrary detention, beatings, extortion, and the fear of being killed. For more than two and half decades, Dadaab has been home to Somalis, Ethiopians, Rwandans, Ugandans, Congolese, and Sudanese.

A Preventive Measure

The Kenyan government noted the primary reason for the closure is the need to protect the country against terrorist attacks. Joseph Nkaissery, Kenya’s Interior Minister said that the Somali terrorist group Al-Shabaab was using the Dadaab refugee camp to smuggle weapons.

Mr. Nkaissery said, “For reasons of pressing national security that speak to the safety of Kenyans in a context of terrorist and criminal activities, the government of the Republic of Kenya has commenced the exercise of closing Dadaab refugee complex.” William Ruto, Kenya’s Deputy President said that if the UNHCR did not close the camp within three months, “we shall relocate them ourselves.”

However, one of the most obvious questions is how Kenya expects to move 350,000 people in a matter of a few months. The forced displacement of 350,000 people will take time. And who is going to pay for it? Moreover, does Kenya plan to line border patrol agents, police the border, and prevent anyone from returning? Of even greater concern, is the push by the government to force the refugees out of the country. If the process of forcing the refugees out does not produce the desired results, the government could quite possibly resort to human rights violations to achieve removal.

The most likely outcome is that the closure of the camp is only going to increase the instability of the region and make it difficult to protect the tens of thousands of women, children, and unaccompanied minors in the camp. And what of the thousands who were born in Dadaab and have never known any other home? Where do they go? Under the current conditions, there have been no policies in place to grant citizenship and allow those refugees to become contributing members of Kenyan society. Therefore, people who were born in Dadaab are considered stateless.

The decision by the Kenyan government to close the Dadaab refugee camp is unrealistic and unethical, and it goes against international humanitarian law to force refugees back to a country where violent conflict is still occurring. As a signatory to both the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, Kenya has an obligation to protect and not expel refugees and Article 33 specifically forbids returning refugees to conflict areas where their life would be in danger.

International Neglect

A secondary reason for the closure is international neglect. The country has grown increasingly frustrated by the lack of support it has received as a result of the crisis created by the Syrian conflict and Islamic State violence. As attention and financial support have been directed toward the Syrian refugee crisis, Kenya has been left with significantly fewer resources. If more financial support were made available, it is possible that Kenya would reconsider closing Dadaab.

But, this is not the first time Kenya has suggested closing Dadaab. While some believe that the threat is a ploy to use the refugees to bargain for more financial support for its military forces, the UN has urged the Kenyan government to reconsider its decision to close Dadaab.

At present, operations in the camp are at a standstill. The registration of refugees, issuance of passes for travel outside of the camp, use of hospitals for medical care, as well as other services have all been stopped. And while Kenya is insisting that they mean business, many in international aid and the 350,000 living in Dadaab are hoping the camp will remain open.

Photo Credit: People of Dadaab by riy Licensed under CC 2.0 license