The High Court of Kenya has asked the country’s government to halt the closure of the Dadaab refugee complex, which was set up in 1991 for families fleeing a conflict-ridden Somalia. In 2011, when the crisis reached its peak, the camp housed around 500,000 people. Now, it holds around 260,000 refugees, mostly of Somali origin. Some have spent more than two decades in the complex.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) runs the Dadaab complex, and it depends on foreign donors for finances to fund its operations. Dadaab remains the largest complex in the world to house refugees. It is divided into five satellite camps – Ifo Main, Ifo 2, Dagahaley, Hagadera and Kambioos.
An aerial view of the Dagahaley satellite camp - Thomas Mukoya - Reuters
Who Wants the Camps to Close?
Last year, the Kenyan government issued a directive to shut the Dadaab complex. There were plans to forcibly send Somali refugees back to their home country, but then the deadline for shutting the camps down received an extension until May this year.
While a high court judge has referred to the government’s decision as an act of group persecution, the government is keen on appealing the ruling on grounds of security. A section believes that the camps have become safe havens for nefarious activities that affect the lives of Kenyans at large.
Eric Kiraithe, a Kenyan government spokesperson, said, “The camp had lost its humanitarian nature and had become a haven for terrorism and other illegal activities. The lives of Kenyans matter. Our interest in this case, and in the closure of Dadaab refugee camp, remains to protect the lives of Kenyans.”
Mwenda Njoka, a spokesperson for the country’s ministry of interior, said, “Our reasons for closing the camp are still valid. The camps are still a haven for terrorists. We intend to appeal the ruling.”
Who Does Not Want the Camps to Close?
When the Kenyan government issued its directive of shutting the Dadaab complex, the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and Kituo Cha Sheria, a lobby group, challenged the decision in court. They claimed it was discriminatory and divergent from international law.
In his ruling, Judge John Mativo said, “The government's decision specifically targeting Somali refugees is an act of group persecution, illegal discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional.” He also called the orders arbitrary, excessive and disproportionate.
Muthoni Wanyeki from Amnesty International has welcomed the court’s decision, saying it affirms the legal obligation Kenya has toward protecting people already on its soil. On the day of the ruling, he said in a statement, “Today is a historic day for more than a quarter of a million refugees who were at risk of being forcefully returned to Somalia, where they would have been at serious risk of human rights abuses.”
What Comes Next?
After the high court’s ruling, Somalis in Kenya had two reasons to celebrate. The first was that the Dadaab complex was not closing and the second was that Somalia elected a new president. Popular favorite Mohamed Farmajo began his term in office on February 8, and many hope he will bring about the changes that Somalia needs. For now though, all eyes are on what comes of the Kenyan government’s appeal against the high court ruling.