The Kenyan government has said it will no longer open its doors to Somalian refugees, citing security concerns and called on international community to step in.
Kenya hosts around 600,000 refugees many of them from neighboring Somalia and South Sudan. The country said it will go ahead and close the sprawling refugee camps at Dadaab and Kakuma- two of the largest in the world. What’s more, Kenya is closing its department that deals with refugee affairs, according to AFP.
"The Government of the Republic of Kenya, having taken into consideration its national security interests, has decided that hosting of refugees has to come to an end," said a statement signed by Interior Ministry Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho.
The interior ministry spokesman Mwenda Njoka said: "the message is clear, we are closing the camps, and we will not accept more refugees in the country."
Mr Njoka noted that the new regulations were aimed at refugees from Somalia but, those from other countries may be affected.
"The problematic ones are the Somalis. They're the ones we're starting with," he said.
The new directive dictates that the newly-arrived asylum seekers will not automatically receive refugee status, and the government will step up efforts to have those already living in the country removed.
Kenya has been forced to resort to the harsh measures as refugees through a 2013 tripartite agreement between the governments of Kenya and Somalia together with the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), have failed to take up the voluntary return to their homeland, Somalia.
With only a handful of refugees taking up the offer, Kenya has been frustrated at the slow take-up, while it tries hard to fight terrorism and maintain security in the country.
"Kenya has been forced by circumstances to reconsider the whole issue of hosting refugees and the process of repatriation," Mr Kibicho said, adding that the Department of Refugee Affairs (DRA) responsible for refugee registration and management had been "disbanded".
Terror in the country
This is not the first time the east African nation has threatened to close down the refugee camps.
After the deadly Al-Shabaab siege at the Nairobi’s Westgate Mall and Garissa University, senior officials said Dadaab would be closed and refugees kicked out.
Days after the Garissa attack last April, Kenya’s Deputy President William Ruto promised to close Dadaab "in three months". Like the previous deadlines, this also passed without any actions taken.
Friday’s statement emphasizes the country’s desire to repatriate refugees back to their countries due to "the immense security challenges such as the threat of the Al-Shabaab and other related terror groups that hosting of refugees has continued to pose to Kenya."
Government and security officials hold that Islamic militants from the Al-Shabaab group hide, thrive and recruit among Somali refugees. Independent observers and refugees themselves have, however, refuted the claims pointing out that many of them have fled Al-Shabaab's depredations.
It is not known how the refugees will operate in the country as new arrivals from Somalia will no longer receive 'prima facie' refugee status but will have to argue their cases individually. On the flip side, this will prove difficult or impossible as the agency tasked with processing those applications, the DRA, is to be shut down.
Tony Karumba/AFP/Getty Images