“We urge the Government of Kenya to ensure that any decisions allow for suitable and sustainable solutions to be found and that those who continue to need protection are able to receive it,” the UN refugee agency said in a statement issued on Wednesday evening.
The move follows a government directive to the UN refugee agency to come up with a way forward on the closure of the camps.
Kenya is citing national security threats posed by some of the refugees, including past terror attacks that have been linked to accomplices of the Somali-based al-Shabab militant group within the camps as the reasons for the planned closure.
Fred Matiang’i, Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government gave the UNHCR a 14-day ultimatum to come up with a roadmap on the definite closure.
Matiang’i who had met the UNHCR officials on Tuesday said on Wednesday there was “no room” for further negotiations. But UNHCR said it was concerned about the impact this decision would have on the protection of refugees in Kenya, including in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“We will continue our dialogue with the Kenyan authorities on this issue,” UNHCR said, adding that it’s ready to support the government in continuing and further strengthening the work that is ongoing to find solutions that are orderly, sustainable, and respect refugee rights.
The Kenyan team has scheduled another meeting with diplomats from Rwanda, Burundi, Uganda and South Sudan on Friday to regularize the repatriation of their nationals from the camps.
Apart from the terror issue, the government team said Kenya’s efforts to have the war-torn areas where al-Shabab operates in Somalia to be labeled as terrorist organizations have been hindered continuously.
The drastic move also comes at a time when there is an ongoing maritime case with Somalia which Kenya has accused the International Court of Justice of failure to honor its request to have the new team of lawyers prepare sufficiently for the case. Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, was set up in 1991 to house people fleeing conflict in Somalia.