UNHCR welcomes delay of Dadaab camp closure
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) has welcomed Kenya’s decision to delay the closure of the Dadaab refugee camp and called for flexibility on the timeframe for repatriation of Somali refugees there.
Kenya said in May it would close Dadaab, which houses more than 260,000 Somalis, in November, citing security concerns. Repatriation has since been accelerated.
The UNHCR lauded Kenya’s commitment to voluntary, humane, safe and dignified returns for the Somalis in accordance with international law.
Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp in northeast Kenya, was set up over 20 years ago to house Somalis fleeing civil conflict.
“UNHCR now appeals to the government of Kenya to show flexibility on the timeframe for the different elements of the plan, including on returns to Somalia,” the UNHCR said in a statement received on Thursday.
“Rigid timeframes will be difficult to meet. For solutions to be genuinely voluntary people must be properly informed, and able to make their individual decisions free from pressure and in full awareness of the facts.”
The UNHCR said it would continue to work with the Kenyan government in pursuing the most appropriate options for the refugees.
Kenya said Wednesday it would delay the closure of the Dadaab refugee camp by six months, citing the volatile security situation in Somalia and a request from the UNHCR.
Interior minister Joseph Nkaissery said some 262,000 refugees were still in Dadaab while 16,000 had been repatriated in the last six months.
He denied reports by some human rights groups and aid agencies that Dadaab refugees were being forced back to Somalia.
The UNHCR has been involved in the repatriation of Dadaab refugees for years.
According to the UN agency, a survey launched months ago found that 283,558 refugees were living in Dadaab, 58,000 fewer than in the past.
The UNHCR says it has also commenced the relocation of 14,000 non-Somali refugees in Dadaab to the Kakuma and Kalobeyei settlement in Kenya’s Turkana county.
Some Dadaab refugees will be moved to third countries. “16,000 refugees awaiting resettlement clearances will have these procedures finalized to enable departure from Kenya to third countries,” the UNHCR said.
The UNHCR also called for the international community to “make adequate investments in Somalia in support of its progress towards security and stability.”
Somalia is struggling to recover from some two decades of civil conflict, but still faces a potent threat from militant group Al-Shabaab.
Kenya claims Al-Shabaab members hide in Dadaab. Al-Shabaab has carried out a series of attacks in Kenya since Kenyan peacekeeping troops entered Somalia to battle the group in 2011.