There is anxiety in Kakuma refugee camps after the Kenyan government announced its closure, according to community leaders there.
On Wednesday, Kenya’s Interior Cabinet Secretary gave the UN Refugee Agency, UNHCR, 14 day-ultimatum to close down three camps – Dadaab, Kakuma and Kalobeyei.
The UNHCR confirmed it was aware of the renewed calls to expedite the relocation of the refugees and asylum-seekers.
It revealed that it was working with the Uhuru administration to continue to implement long-term and sustainable solutions.
Kakuma camp and Kalobeyei Integrated Settlement had a population of 196,666 registered refugees and asylum-seekers at the end of July 2020. Most of them are South Sudanese.
The declaration has already caused panic on the streets of Kakuma and Kalobeyei as refugees expressed concerns over their fate.
Achayo Rebecca, a South Sudanese community leader in Kakuma, says she has been in the camp for nearly 20 years and does not know what to do.
“I am quite sure our government is not ready to welcome us back home. At least the preparation process would have taken some time to help us prepare,” she told Eye Radio on Friday.
Peter Obaj is also a South Sudanese national, who has been in Kakuma refugee camp since 1992.
Obaj says most of the refugees are not prepared to return to their native homes, adding that: “I am proud to go back home, but the issues of peace are a challenge.”
The government of Kenya has been particular about Dadaab Refugee Camp. It believes the camp has been infiltrated by terrorist groups, especially those from Somalia.
A Somali national in the camp, Abas Bin-Nur, thinks the demand by the Kenyan government to close down all the camps is against international laws to protect people escaping persecution.
“We the refugees are innocent, for we are not party to the political problems between my country and Kenya,” he asserted.
This is the second attempt by the Kenyan government to have the camps closed and refugees repatriated.
In February 2017, a Kenyan court said it would be unconstitutional for the government to close refugee camps housing mostly people who have fled conflicts.
The UNHCR maintains that any decision on refugees should facilitate voluntary returns, third-country solutions such as resettlement, sponsorships, family reunifications and labor migration.
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