World Bulletin / News Desk
The United Nations refugee agency urged Kenya on Tuesday to reconsider an order to close the teeming Dadaab refugee camp, warning that sending Somali refugees back to their homeland would have "extreme humanitarian and practical consequences".
Kenya said on Saturday it had given the United Nations three months to remove the camp housing hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees, as part of a get-tough response to the killing of 148 people by Somali gunmen at a Kenyan university.
The UNHCR said it was ready to work with Kenyan authorities to "strengthen law enforcement" at Dadaab to help protect refugees and Kenyans against possible intrusion by armed groups. "We are thus urging the Kenyan authorities to give the matter further consideration," it said.
Official UNHCR statement on the future of Kenya's Dadaab Refugee Camps
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Karin de Gruijl – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at the press briefing, on 14 April 2015, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
The Government of Kenya has announced that the Dadaab refugee camps should be closed within three months and the 350,000 Somali refugees living there returned to their country. The Government's decision was announced this past weekend following the horrific attack at Garissa University earlier this month.
UNHCR too has been shocked and appalled by the Garissa attack. High Commissioner Guterres and his staff stand in solidarity with the people of Kenya. We reiterate our condolences to the families of all the victims.
Kenya has been generously hosting and protecting refugees from violence and persecution in neighbouring Somalia for more than two decades. UNHCR works closely with the Government of Kenya and we understand well the current regional security situation and the seriousness of the threats Kenya is facing. We also recognize the obligation of the Government to ensure the security of its citizens and other people living in Kenya, including refugees.
UNHCR is nevertheless concerned that abruptly closing the Dadaab camps and forcing refugees back to Somalia would have extreme humanitarian and practical consequences, and would be a breach of Kenya's international obligations.
We are thus urging the Kenyan authorities to give the matter further consideration. UNHCR stands ready to work even more closely with the Government of Kenya to strengthen law enforcement at Dadaab and support other measures to protect refugees and Kenyans alike against possible intrusion by armed actors from across the border.
In December 2014, a pilot scheme was launched to support people who seek to voluntarily repatriate to one of three relatively safe areas of Somalia, namely Luuq, Baidoa and Kismayo. We are ready to work with the Governments of Kenya and Somalia to step up this program where there are opportunities for voluntary repatriation. Nonetheless, for now UNHCR considers that large-scale returns are still not possible in many parts of the country, in particular to South Central Somalia.
UNHCR reiterates it continued commitment to supporting the Government of Kenya in its protection of Somali refugees going forward.
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