The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) appealed to Kenya to continue hosting refugees from South Sudan and Somalia.
It came after a Kenyan official said that the government “has decided that hosting of refugees has to come to an end” and would close the Dadaab and Kakuma camps, which are home to a huge number of refugees.
In a statement issued in the Kenyan capital Nairobi, the UNHCR called on the government to reconsider its decision and “avoid taking any action that might be at odds with its international obligations towards people needing sanctuary from danger and persecution.”
Dadaab, in northeast Kenya, is the world’s largest refugee camp, hosting nearly 330,000 refugees, mostly from Somalia.
Kakuma, in the northwest houses about 150,000 refugees, mostly from South Sudan, Sudan and Somalia.
Kenya’s Interior Ministry Principal Secretary, Karanja Kibicho, said that the government would close the refugee camps “within the shortest possible time”, citing “a very heavy economic, security and environmental burden.”
He said the government had disbanded the Department of Refugee Affairs as the first step.
The UNHCR said it would continue to be in touch with the Kenyan government to let it “fully understand the implications of its statement”.
It admitted that the hosting of hundreds of thousands of refugees “has had many consequences for the country and its population,” calling for international support for Kenya.
The Kenyan government has been pushing for the repatriation of Somali refugees, citing improved security conditions in parts of Somalia.
It also cites security concerns, referring to Somali Islamist group Al-Shabaab.
Last year, Kenya asked the UNHCR to close the Dadaab camp, days after Al-Shabaab gunmen’s massacre of 148 people at Kenya’s Garissa University in April. The UNHCR asked the government to reconsider the decision, but agreed to facilitate voluntary repatriation of Somali refugees.
Xinhua / Z.S