Refugees Fear Kenya's Plan to Shut Camps


Kenya's plan to close the world's largest refugee camp and send Somali refugees home has sparked fear among some of those who have sought shelter in Kakuma camp in Kenya's north-west.

"If we are chased away from this place I cannot go back home to Somalia," said Momina Omar Semboka, 39, a refugee in Kakuma who comes from Kismayo in southern Somalia.

"We are scared, we are not happy about this decision, we cannot go back home to our country. Al Shebab are everywhere," said Mwajuma Ramadhan Mwechiwa, 42, also from Kismayo, referring to the Al-Qaida-linked militants who control territory in Somalia and operate in Kenya.

Kenya hosts around 600,000 refugees, some of whom have lived in the country for a quarter of a century.

Last week officials announced a plan to refuse new refugee arrivals and shut Dadaab on the Kenya-Somalia border, home to around 350,000 people, citing security concerns.

On Wednesday interior minister Joseph Ole Nkaissery said money had been set aside and a timetable for repatriating refugees and closing Dadaab camp was being drawn up.

"The refugees will be repatriated to their countries of origin or to third party countries for resettlement," Nkaissery said.

Aid agencies and the United Nations have reacted with dismay to the Kenyan plan.

Visiting Kakuma on Thursday David Milliband, former UK foreign minister and head of the International Rescue Committee (IRC) charity, said refugees must not be forcibly returned to Somalia.

"Our own view is very strongly that the historic long term international commitment that refugees should not be forcibly returned to their country of origin should be maintained," Milliband said.

"Our position is not to be for or against camps, we are for or against dignity and human support for refugees," he added.

Kenya has appointed a task force, due to report later this month, that will produce recommendations and a timeline for closing Dadaab.

Milliband said there must be "informed decision-making that respects the Kenyan perspective and also respects the rights of refugees who are, after all, the innocent victims of other people's wars."

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