The World's Biggest Refugee Camp Is Being Shut Down

Kenya says 330K people will have to leave
By Rob Quinn,  Newser Staff
Posted May 12, 2016 4:47 AM CDT
Updated May 12, 2016 5:13 AM CDT
The World's Biggest Refugee Camp Is Being Shut Down
Refugees walk amongst huts at a refugee camp in Dadaab, Kenya.    (AP Photo/Schalk van Zuydam, File)

The world's biggest refugee camp has more people than some countries—and Kenya has decided it is time for them to go back where they came from, war or no war. The country's government announced Wednesday that it plans to shut down the Dadaab camp, which holds around 330,000 Somali refugees, as part of a plan to send all 600,000 refugees in the country elsewhere, the AP reports. The government claims the sprawling camp complex in the country's northeast harbors al-Shabab militants who have launched at least three attacks from Dadaab. In other developments:

  • Interior Minister Joseph Nkaissery says weapons were smuggled through the camp and it is being closed for "pressing national security" reasons, the Guardian reports. "The refugees will be repatriated to their countries of origin or to third-party countries for resettlement," the minister told reporters in Nairobi. They have been given until May 2017 to leave Dadaab.

  • John Kerry says he is worried about the decision to close the camp, and he wants Kenya to continue its "leadership role in protecting and sheltering victims of violence and trauma, consistent with its international obligations."
  • The government had spoken earlier of also closing the Kakuma camp, which mostly houses refugees from South Sudan, but it appears to have been given a reprieve because it is not considered a security risk, reports the Guardian.
  • Close to a dozen international organizations, including Amnesty International, have urged Kenya to reconsider. "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," Amnesty regional director Muthoni Wanyeki tells the Independent.
  • Foreign Affairs Secretary Karanja Kibicho admits the move will "have adverse effects on the lives of refugees" and says "the international community must collectively take responsibility on humanitarian needs that will arise out of this action."
  • Human Rights Watch rep Leslie Leftow tells the Los Angeles Times that the government is scapegoating Somali refugees, who fled war and famine for the camps, which are mostly tents and huts that lack indoor plumbing. "It's a miserable existence, and no one would seek to extend people's lives there indefinitely unless the alternative is worse," Leftow says.
  • At South Africa's Daily Maverick, Simon Allison calls the move "cynical electioneering" from President Uhuru Kenya, and predicts that logistics alone will make it impossible. "How would Kenya go about transporting nearly 600,000 people into active war zones like Somalia without their co-operation?" he wonders. He notes that construction has just begun on a "poorly conceived' border wall with Somalia, meaning many refugees will come straight back.
(Read more Kenya stories.)

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