NAIROBI, Kenya, Jun 14 – Kenya’s planned closure later this year of Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, must not result in people being forcibly returned to war-torn Somalia, the UN’s refugee chief warned Monday.
“Repatriation, when it happens, must be in a humane, dignified manner, in line with international principles,” UN High Commissioner for Refugees Filippo Grandi said in Nairobi after a five-day visit to Kenya and Somalia.
Kenya has vowed to send back 350,000 Somali refugees living in Dadaab in north-east Kenya by November, insisting the camp is a security threat and a drain on national resources.
Nairobi has taken a hardline position, describing Dadaab as a terrorist training ground for Shabaab Islamists, and has publicly and repeatedly said all the Somali refugees would be removed from the country by the end of the year.
But Grandi – who met with President Uhuru Kenyatta on Sunday – said there was room for flexibility.
“The time frame of a few months is very short. I’m sure it will be longer than November, how long I don’t know,” Grandi said. “I hope there will not be a scenario of coercion and forced return.”
Just 14,000 refugees have taken up the offer of voluntary return since the programme began in December 2014, but Grandi said “tens of thousands” more had returned “spontaneously”, meaning without UN assistance.