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Tuesday 14 April 2015

U.N. Asks Kenya Not to Close Somali Refugee Camp in Wake of Garissa Killings

GENEVA — The United Nations refugee agency urged Kenya on Tuesday to reconsider plans for closing Dadaab, one of the world’s oldest and biggest complexes of refugee camps, and forcing its more than 350,000 Somali inhabitants back into Somalia.

The agency said such a forced repatriation would violate international law.

Kenya’s deputy president, William Ruto, announced the plans to close Dadaab and repatriate its population on Saturday as part of the Kenyan response to the April 2 attack on Garissa University College by Somalia-based extremist Shabab gunmen that killed 148 people, including 142 students. Kenya initially responded to the attack with airstrikes on Shabab positions in Somalia. But in a further move linked to security, Mr. Ruto told the United Nations refugee agency it had three months to relocate the camp’s population. If the agency failed to comply, Mr. Ruto said, “we shall relocate them ourselves.”

Dadaab is a complex of five camps about 50 miles from the Somali border, set up nearly a quarter of a century ago to harbor fugitives from Somalia’s famine, conflict and mayhem. The complex, originally meant to hold about 90,000 people, has chronically suffered severe overcrowding.

“The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa,” Mr. Ruto said in a statement.

Abrupt closing of the camp and forced return of its population to Somalia, one of the world’s poorest and most dysfunctional countries, “would have extreme humanitarian and practical consequences,” Karin de Gruijl, a spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, told reporters in Geneva.

Moreover, forced repatriation “could be in breach of international law, and U.N.H.C.R. would not facilitate such a move,” she said.

The agency has contacted the office of the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta; the Ministry of Foreign Affairs; and other government offices to urge reconsideration of the decision but had not so far received a response, said Adrian Edwards, a spokesman for the agency.

Shabab Attacks in Kenya

Since 2012, more than 600 people have been killed in Kenya by the Shabab, an extremist group based in Somalia and affiliated with Al Qaeda. The group claimed responsibility for an April 2 attack on Garissa University College that killed 147 people.
Attacks by the Shabab that resulted in one or more deaths
100 deaths
In 2013, the Shabab mounted an attack on a Nairobi shopping mall that left at least 67 people dead.
Sources: Preliminary data from Global Terrorism Database, National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism; Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project

The Kenyan authorities previously described Dadaab, about an hour’s drive from Garissa, as a “nursery for terror” and a recruiting ground for the Shabab, a group affiliated with Al Qaeda. But Ms. de Gruijl said that security in the camp had been strengthened and that the situation was “much calmer” than a few years previously.
The refugee agency said it was ready to work with the Kenyan authorities to strengthen law enforcement in the camp to protect refugees and Kenyans from Somali extremists.
The agency said it was also ready to expand a pilot program of voluntary repatriation to a few safe areas that was started at the end of last year, but said bluntly that “large-scale returns are still not possible” in much of Somalia.

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