On Friday 6th May 2016 the Government of Kenya (GoK) issued a statement via the Ministry of the Interior communicating its intention to close down Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps within the shortest possible timeframe. These camps constitute two of the largest refugee complexes in the world, housing over half a million displaced people. Although URBAN REFUGEES disagree with the encampment of refugees, it strongly opposes the Kenyan Government’s forced removal of refugees from these camps. Measures that aim to help refugees exit camps should always be implemented with refugees’ consent. In addition they should offer dignified living conditions and long-term livelihood prospects outside of camps, however this option is not being provided to refugees in Kenya.
The reliance on encampment as a means of dealing with large-scale displacement has led to donor fatigue and Government resentment in the case of Kenya. It has resulted in an unsustainable situation for all parties concerned. This unfolding crisis underscores the impetus to seek alternatives to camps and the need for increased implementation of programmes in urban areas. These allow refugees to live their lives to their full potential, while benefitting the host population in a myriad of ways. Much greater support from the international community is required for these programmes to be initiated on a larger scale. The success of such programmes is evident through initiatives such as those outlined on the website www.goodpractices.urban-refugees.org
URBAN REFUGEES urges the Government of Kenya to retract its intention to close Dadaab and Kakuma. Further it advocates the Government to provide greater freedom of movement to refugees so they can live more fulfilling lives and benefit their hosts while in exile. The opportunity exists to collaborate with the humanitarian community in developing long-term sustainable solutions for refugees that are amenable to all concerned stakeholders.
URBAN REFUGEES also contends that the forced repatriation of thousands of refugees to volatile countries will not solve existing refugee situations, but will augment the problem in the long term. Coercing thousands of mostly Somali and South Sudanese refugees back to areas where they fear for their lives, and have little or no access to land or sustainable livelihoods is highly counterproductive. This violation of refugee’s rights will further worsen the situation of thousands of lives and intensify conflict in refugee producing countries in the East and Horn of Africa. The closure of the camps would put added stress on other refugee hosting countries and increase the number of refugees forced into dangerous journeys in search of safety.
The Government statement cited Kenya’s shouldering of a “very heavy economic, security and environmental burden” over the past 25 years in hosting refugees. The statement emphasises in particular the security concerns related to the terrorist organisation al-Shabaab that have been responsible for attacks in Kenya. URBAN REFUGEES acknowledges that Kenya has legitimate security concerns and holds a duty to protect its citizens. However, Kenya also has responsibilities to refugees under national, regional and international law. As a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention and the 1969 OAU Convention Governing the Specific Aspects of Refugee Problems in Africa, Kenya also retains a duty to the refugees within its territory. The principle of non-refoulment remains the cornerstone of international refugee law and by flouting this law in forcing the closure of the refugee camps, the Government of Kenya is revoking much needed protection for hundred of thousands of vulnerable individuals.
It must be reiterated that Kenya has been a generous and welcoming host during the past 25 years. The Government of Kenya’s actions highlight the lack of international support provided to hosting states. Increased international assistance that can benefit both refugees and the host population must be available to countries such as Kenya. In conjunction with this, provision must be made for allowing refugees to pursue livelihood activities outside camps, which can be advantageous to the host population through increased economic growth. This effectively shares the responsibility for refugees, providing long-term durable solutions and avoids the problems of protracted displacement.