NAIROBI, Kenya, Mar 25- The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) now says the drastic decision by Kenya to close Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps is ill-timed.
In a statement, the UN agency said the decision will have impact on the protection of refugees in Kenya, and has also cited the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hours after Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi on Wednesday said there is no room for negotiations, the agency committed to “continue with dialogue with the Kenyan authorities on this issue.”
“We urge the Government of Kenya to ensure that any decisions allow for suitable and sustainable solutions to be found and that those who continue to need protection are able to receive it,” UNHCR said in a statement.
Matiangi had called a meeting Tuesday with the UNHCR officials where he communicated Kenya’s position, and declared that “there is no room for further negotiations.”
But the UNHCR said it stands ready to support the Government of Kenya in continuing and further strengthening the work that is ongoing to find solutions that are orderly, sustainable and respect refugee rights.
Further, the agency committed to support the Government in continuing and further strengthening the work that is ongoing to find solutions that are orderly, sustainable and respect refugee rights.
This is the latest attempt to close the two camps in years, with the government citing national security concerns, over reports that they have been used as a breeding grounds for terrorism.
“UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, is grateful to the people and Government of Kenya for generously hosting refugees and asylum-seekers for several decades and recognize the impact this generosity has had,” reads the statement.
There have been similar efforts to close the two camps, that culminated to a voluntary repatriation programme in 2014, that saw a spontaneous return to Somalia.
Since 2014, Dadaab population has drastically reduced from a high of 466, 683 in 2011, when the civil war in Somalia had worsened.
In November 2013, a Tripartite Agreement had been signed by the Government of Kenya, the Federal Government of Somalia and UNHCR, to provide a framework for the voluntary return of Somali refugees from Kenya.
A pilot project was officially launched on December 8, 2014 with the six months of the pilot phase ending on June 30 2015, to support refugees opting to voluntarily return to Somalia.
During the pilot phase, 2,588 returnees were supported to return to three designated areas- Kismayu, Baidoa and Luuq.
At the end of the pilot phase, the Tripartite Commission endorsed a strategy and four-year operational plan to support refugees and to continue with voluntary return.
After the success of the pilot phase, 6 more return areas were included. They are Mogadishu, Beletweyne, Afgooye, Balad, Jowhar and Wanylaweyn.
Currently there are 12 designated areas of return that include Belet Hawa, Diinsor town and Afmadow.
Globally, UNHCR says there are more than two million Somalis are currently displaced by a conflict that has lasted over two decades.