Kenya: Top court blocks closure of Dabaab refugee camp

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees says the numbers have dwindled thanks to voluntary repatriations as well as resettlement in the Kakuma camp in northwest Kenya.
The Kenyan high court has declared plans to close the world’s largest refugee camp and send more than 300,000 refugees to war-torn Somalia as “unlawful”.The judge’s ruling also blocks the government’s decision to disband Kenya’s Department for Refugee Affairs.This is a very positive step for the lives of the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have been stuck in limbo since the official announcement about the camp closure was made in May a year ago.Mativo said the Kenyan government had not proved Somalia was safe for the refugees to return.In November, the closure was delayed by six months after calls by foreign nations to postpone it on humanitarian grounds.Mativo also ordered the government to ensure that the department of refugees was functioning effectively.Human Rights Watch said the court sent a message that it is one institution in Kenya willing to uphold refugee rights.

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Somalia is under inter-clan conflict for past 25 years and swaths of the country are now being controlled by Islamic militant group al-Shabaab.The government has presented Dadaab as a security risk, saying Somali Islamists inside the camp planned the Shabaab attacks at Nairobi’s Westgate shopping mall in 2013 and the Garissa university attack in 2015, though it has not provided evidence.The move, according to Justice John Mativo was ‘an act of somali refugees persecution’. Many argue that the government is using the refugees as a scapegoat, contending that the security issues are stemming from corruption and the lack of proper counterterrorism efforts to deter the attacks.A directive was issued previous year to shut down the Dadaab camp and forcibly repatriate about 260,000 Somali refugees living in the camp. We hope to see successful refugee hosting models like that followed in Uganda – where refugees are allowed to support themselves, use local health and education services, and contribute to their communities – replicated across East Africa and beyond.MSF has described the ruling as a positive step for the scores of refugees who have been stuck in limbo since the official announcement was made.Notably, Somalia is undergoing huge changes, especially with the election of the country’s new president.Human rights groups applauded the High Court’s decision on Thursday.The government originally wanted to shut down Dadaab last November, but delayed the closure after global pressure to give residents more time to find new homes.