The Kenyan government has announced that it plans to expel hundreds of thousands of refugees, a move that aid agencies say would violate international law and endanger many people.
For years, Kenya has threatened to shut down the Dadaab refugee camp, where hundreds of thousands of Somalis have been marooned for decades. A sea of tents and plastic shelters spread out across miles of desert near the border with Somalia, the camp has become essentially one of Kenya’s largest cities.
On Wednesday, the Kenyan government said that terrorists were using Dadaab as a hide-out.
“As a country we have been glad to help our neighbors and all those in need sometimes at the expense of our security,” the government said in a statement. “But there comes a time when we must think primarily about the security of our people. Ladies and gentlemen, that time is now.”
Kenya is home to about half a million refugees who have fled years of war and turmoil in neighboring Somalia. But Somalia is hardly at peace now; the Shabab militant group continues to rule large parts of the country, brutalizing and killing civilians.
Human rights organizations said international and Kenyan law prohibited the forced return of refugees to any place where they might face persecution or other serious harm.
The threat posed by the Shabab in Somalia and Kenya “is real, but that doesn’t negate Kenya’s obligation to abide by international refugee law,” Bill Frelick, the refugee rights program director at Human Rights Watch, said last week in a statement. “In a single breath, the Kenyan government recognizes that the Somalis it has been hosting for nearly 25 years are still refugees, but then states it’s finished with them.”
The government has not set a deadline for expelling refugees, saying only that it will do so “in the shortest time possible.”
Some analysts suspect that the refugees are becoming victims of Kenyan politics. Kenya is scheduled to hold a presidential election next year, and the incumbent, Uhuru Kenyatta, has been positioning himself as the best candidate to protect national security.
New York Times