Kenya Plans to Close All of its Refugee Camps, Displacing 600,000 People Over Fears of Terrorist Infiltration

An aerial view of the Dagahaley refugee camp, which makes up part of the giant Dadaab refugee settlement, on July 19, 2011, in Dadaab, Kenya. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)
An aerial view of the Dagahaley refugee camp, which makes up part of the giant Dadaab refugee settlement, on July 19, 2011, in Dadaab, Kenya. (Oli Scarff/Getty Images)

Kenya’s government announced Friday that it was being “forced by circumstances to reconsider the whole issue of hosting refugees,” which is a huge deal because the country hosts more than 600,000 of them.

And even though the Kenyan government has threatened to shut down its two largest refugee camps, Dadaab and Kakuma, twice before, they have taken the additional step this time of “disbanding” their Department of Refugee Affairs so as to close the camps in “the shortest time possible.”

Three quarters of the refugees in Kenya are from Somalia, many of whom fled a devastating famine between 2010 and 2012. Others have fled the violence that has plagued their home country. Since 2011, Kenyan troops have fought against the Somali extremist group al-Shabab, which has retaliated by launching numerous attacks on Kenyan soil, including sieges of Garissa University College and Westgate mall, killing 147 and 61 respectively. Most of the other refugees come from South Sudan. Dadaab, a sprawling series of settlements 80 miles inside Kenya from the border with Somalia, is the world’s largest refugee camp and is nearing its 25th anniversary.

The Kenyan government alluded to its suspicions that the refugee camps may be havens for al-Shabab in its announcement, saying that the closures were “due to the immense security challenges such as threat of Al Shabaab and other related terror groups.”

Both Somalia and South Sudan are still largely ungoverned, and returning there almost certainly put these refugees back in harm’s way. Aid groups were quick to register their opposition to the move. International pressure has contributed to the camps’ staying open twice before.

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SOURCE: Max Bearak  
The Washington Post