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On March 24, Fred Matiang’i, Kenya’s interior minister, ordered the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) to close the Dadaab and Kakuma camps, located in northern Kenya.
He gave the UNHCR a deadline of two weeks — until April 6 — to devise a plan on how to close the two camps that house more than 400,000 people seeking refuge from countries in east Africa such as Somalia, Tanzania, Uganda, Burundi, Ethiopia, and South Sudan.
Matiang’i maintained that there was “no room for further negotiations” and, if refugees failed to leave the camps, authorities would force refugees to travel to the border with Sudan.
In a statement released on March 24, the UNHCR said that the two week timeframe it was given by the government of Kenya was very short.
“UNHCR is 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,” the agency stated. “We will continue our dialogue with the Kenyan authorities on this issue.”
This is not the first time Kenyan authorities have tried to close the refugee camps — with the government largely citing national security concerns. In 2016 the government tried to close the Dadaab camp, but the country’s high court called off this plan and considered the action to be unconstitutional.
UNHCR confirmed to Global Citizen on April 6 — the day that marked the government’s deadline — that they are in discussions over the plans for the two camps, and are yet to release a statement based on those discussions.
Closing of these camps means that the hundreds of thousands of people who live in them could face losing more than just their homes — they could also face losing business opportunities, a sense of security, and access to education. Many of the refugees have nowhere to go, as they have lived at these camps for many years and their home countries are still facing conflict and insecurity.
Dadaab refugee camp was established 30 years ago and was once known for being the world’s largest refugee camp, which at its peak hosted over half a million people fleeing violence and droughts in Somalia. Kakuma refugee camp, located in the north-western part Kenya hosts more than 190,000 people.