Kenya’s recent call to shut refugee camps in the country without offering alternative solutions, will have a devastating impact on refugee communities. It creates further uncertainties for some half-a-million refugees, heightening their anxieties as they are left in the dark as to what the future might hold.
The decision to close the camps, even as the pandemic shows no sign of abating in Kenya and the wider region, during a period of increased instability and fragility in Somalia, is irresponsible and totally inhumane, stripping refugees of the only choice they have. A large majority of refugees in Dadaab are from Somalia.
Without guaranteeing safety and offering secure choices for refugees, hastily dismantling the camps undermines refugees’ dignity, puts their lives at risk and further impedes the search for durable solutions. COVID-19 already halted all progress towards durable solutions; resettlement drastically declined in the last years; while efforts towards local integration of refugees in Dadaab, through the Garissa Integrated Socio-Economic Development Plan, have stalled.
For refugees in Dadaab today, return to Somalia is impossible. Insecurity remains high in the country, even while acute water shortages and drought-like conditions continue to drive more displacement within Somalia. Refugee returns must be voluntary.
Any decision that drastically impacts the lives of refugees must reflect their wishes and aspirations. At a minimum, refugees must have a voice at the table, where decisions about the future of the camps will be taken and implemented.