GENEVA (Reuters) - The U.N. refugee agency on Monday called on Kenya to reconsider its plans to close camps that host Somali and South Sudanese refugees and that the government has long said pose a security threat.
Kenya’s Interior Ministry said on Friday it aimed to close in the “shortest time possible” the sprawling Dadaab camp, home to 350,000 mostly Somalis, and Kakuma camp, which has expanded during more than two years of conflict in nearby South Sudan.
Kenya has made similar remarks before, even setting a three-month deadline last year for Dadaab to be closed, although it has backed away from such threats.
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said in a statement it viewed with “profound concern” the latest Kenyan government comments.
“UNHCR is calling on the government of Kenya to reconsider its decision and to avoid taking any action that might be at odds with its international obligations,” it said.
In Friday’s comments, the Interior Ministry said hosting refugees posed “immense security challenges”, particularly from Somali Islamist group al Shabaab, which has killed hundreds of Kenyans in attacks during the past three years or so.
UNHCR said in January it was planning for as many as 50,000 Somalis to return to Somalia in 2016 under a voluntary repatriation programme, although it said that number might not be met given the challenges returnees still face. [nL8N1554VQ]
Although neighbouring Somalia is making a slow recovery from more than two decades of conflict and chaos, the government is still fighting an al Shabaab insurgency and many basic services are lacking, such as proper schooling and adequate shelter.
South Sudan’s political leaders have also been patching up differences, but the peace process has proved fragile and the U.N. World Food Programme has said up to 5.3 million people may face severe food shortages during this year’s lean season. [nL5N18638S]
Reporting by Tom Miles in Geneva and Humphrey Malalo in Nairobi; Writing by Edmund Blair; Editing by George Obulutsa and Alison Williams