Kenya will not forcibly repatriate some 336,000 Somalis living in one of the world’s largest refugee camps, but the government intends to continue with its plans to close the camp within three months for security reasons, a government official said.
Following a major attack by Somali militants earlier this month, Kenya’s Vice President William Ruto gave the United Nations until July to relocate all the refugees from Dadaab camp.
Since then, the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) and international charities have urged the government to reconsider its decision, fearing refugees’ lives would be in danger if they are forced back to Somalia.
It is illegal under the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention to force refugees back to areas where their lives are threatened.
“While we are committed to the return of all refugees, more so Somali refugees, you will not see us holding people by the head and the tail and throwing them into lorries to take them across the border,” Ali Bunow Korane, chair of Kenya’s refugee affairs commission, said on Wednesday in Nairobi.
He was speaking at a meeting of U.N. officials, aid agencies and civil society, organized by the Rift Valley Institute think tank, to discuss the implications of closing Dadaab.
The camp, near Kenya’s northern border with Somalia, is an hour’s drive from the Kenyan town of Garissa where al Shabaab militants killed 148 people at a university on April 2.