The United Nations refugee agency urged Kenya on Tuesday to reconsider plans for closing Dadaab, one of the world’s oldest and biggest complexes of refugee camps, and forcing its more than 350,000 Somali inhabitants back into Somalia.
The agency said such a forced repatriation would violate international law.
Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, announced the plans to close Dadaab and repatriate its population on Saturday as part of the Kenyan response to the April 2 attack on Garissa University College by Somalia-based extremist Shabab gunmen that killed 148 people, including 142 students. Kenya initially responded to the attack with airstrikes on Shabab positions in Somalia. But in a further move linked to security, Mr. Ruto told the United Nations refugee agency it had three months to relocate the camp’s population. If the agency failed to comply, Mr. Ruto said, “we shall relocate them ourselves.”
Dadaab is a complex of five camps about 50 miles from the Somali border, set up nearly a quarter of a century ago to harbor fugitives from Somalia’s famine, conflict and mayhem. The complex, originally meant to hold about 90,000 people, has chronically suffered severe overcrowding.
“The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa,” Mr. Ruto said in a statement.
Abrupt closing of the camp and forced return of its population to Somalia, one of the world’s poorest and most dysfunctional countries, “would have extreme humanitarian and practical consequences,” Karin de Gruijl, a spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters in Geneva.
Moreover, forced repatriation “could be in breach of international law, and U.N.H.C.R. would not facilitate such a move,” she said.
The agency has contacted the office of the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and other government offices to urge reconsideration of the decision but had not so far received a response, said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the agency.