The United Nations refugee agency today urged Kenyan authorities to reconsider their decision to shut down within the next three months Dadaab refugee camps, a decision that would require some 350,000 Somalis to return to their country and would cause “extreme” humanitarian consequences.
“Large-scale returns are still not possible in many parts of the country, in particular to South Central Somalia,” spokesperson for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Karin de Gruijl, told journalists in Geneva.
The Government’s decision was announced this past weekend following the horrific attack at Garissa University in Kenya earlier this month, the agency said, referring to the 2 April assault on the campus for which Somali-based Al-Shabaab claimed responsibility. According to the UN Security Council, which strongly condemned the attack, dozens were killed, scores injured and many held hostage and others unaccounted for, the vast majority of whom were students.
“UNHCR too has been shocked and appalled by the Garissa attack. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and his staff stand in solidarity with the people of Kenya. We reiterate our condolences to the families of all the victims,” said Ms. de Gruijl said today.
Yet forcing refugees back to Somalia would have severe practical consequences, and would be a breach of Kenya’s international obligations. Kenya has hosted and protected refugees from violence and persecution in neighbouring Somalia for more than two decades, she added.
UNHCR is working closely with the Government of Kenya and understands the current regional security situation and the seriousness of the threats Kenya is facing. It recognizes the Government’s obligation to ensure the security of its citizens and other people living in Kenya, including refugees.
“We are thus urging the Kenyan authorities to give the matter further consideration. UNHCR stands ready to work closely with the Government of Kenya to strengthen law enforcement at Dadaab and support other measures to protect refugees and Kenyans alike against possible intrusion by armed actors from across the border,” Ms. de Gruijl said.
UNHCR will also support other measures to protect refugees and Kenyans alike against possible intrusion by armed actors from across the border. In December 2014, a pilot scheme was launched to support people who seek to voluntarily repatriate to one of three relatively safe areas of Somalia, namely Luuq, Baidoa and Kismayo.
“We are ready to work with the Governments of Kenya and Somalia to step up this program where there are opportunities for voluntary repatriation,” UNHCR said, reiterating its commitment to support Kenya in its protection of Somali refugees going forward.