Kenya earmarks $10M to close world's largest refugee camp

NAIROBI, Kenya – Kenya said Wednesday, May 11, it had set aside $10 million to help fund the closing of the world's largest refugee camp, home to around 350,000 mostly Somali refugees, citing security fears.

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

On Friday, May 6, an interior ministry official announced a plan to refuse new refugee arrivals and shut Dadaab on the Kenya-Somalia border.

"For reasons of pressing national security that speak to the safety of Kenyans in a context of terrorist and criminal activities, the government ... has commenced the exercise of closing Dadaab Refugee Complex," Interior Minister Joseph Ole Nkaissery told a press conference in Nairobi.

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

Nkaissery said the government would provide $10 million (just under 9 million euros) "to kick-start the repatriation process and subsequent closure of Dadaab," adding that a timetable was being drawn up.

Charities and the UN refugee agency are dismayed by the plan while human rights groups have warned that forcibly repatriating refugees would break international law.

Nkaissery repeated claims that terrorist attacks on Nairobi's Westgate shopping mall, at Kenya's Garissa university and elsewhere, "were planned and deployed from Dadaab refugee camp by transnational terrorists," but no credible evidence has yet been provided to support these allegations.

Nkaissery compared Kenya's Somali refugees to Syrian refugees in Europe.

"ISIS has taken advantage of refugee inflows and processes to install its destructive cells. So much so that governments across Europe and the Middle East have taken unprecedented efforts to limit refugee inflows into their countries on the grounds of national security," he said.

Nkaissery said Kenya, too, faces a potential threat from the Islamic State group, adding: "Kenya cannot look aside and allow this threat to escalate any further."

"This decision has been made by government reflecting the fact that the camps have become hosting grounds for Al-Shebab as well as centers of smuggling and contraband trade besides being enablers of illicit weapons proliferation," Nkaissery said, referring to Somalia's Al-Qaeda aligned group.

Dadaab residents, aid agencies on the ground and independent observers deny that Islamic militants find a safe haven there, while numerous reports have highlighted the role of corrupt Kenyan officials in the smuggling of charcoal, sugar and people through Dadaab. –