Kenyan decision to close refugee camps potentially puts hundreds of thousands at risk

Earlier today, the Kenyan government issued a deeply troubling statement on the closure of Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps. Citing national security concerns, Ministry of Interior Principal Secretary Dr. Eng Karanja Kibicho announced that “hosting of refugees has come to an end.” The statement is a major blow to the most basic fundamentals of refugee rights.

“Closing down Dadaab and Kakuma camps would be disastrous for the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have sought refuge in Kenya from war-torn countries such as Somalia, South Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo,” said Mark Yarnell, Senior Advocate at Refugees International. “The decision is not only in violation of international law but puts refugees in need of protection in immediate risk.”

The decision is not only in violation of international law but puts refugees in need of protection in immediate risk.”
— Mark Yarnell, Refugees International Senior Advocate

This is not the first time the Kenyan government has issued such a statement. As Refugees International has previously reported, when the government previously issued directives ordering refugees living in cities to report to refugee camps in 2012 and 2014, refugees were immediately extorted, bribed, physically abused, and arbitrarily arrested. The threat of such abuse happening again in the wake of today’s statement is very real.

“Whether or not the Kenyan government actually moves to close the camps, this statement opens up refugees to increased levels of extortion and abuse at the hands of Kenyan police and other security forces,” Yarnell said. “Refugees in Kenya were already struggling for survival in a place of refuge that is becoming increasingly hostile to them. This statement only worsens the situation, leaving refugees’ lives in limbo.”