The United Nations Refugee Agency said it’s seeking clarification of an announcement by the Kenyan government directing Somali refugees and asylum seekers to report to the Dadaab refugee camp in northeastern Kenya.
The Department of Refugee Affairs published a newspaper advertisement yesterday saying the government stopped registering all refugees and asylum seekers in urban areas with immediate effect. Under the new rules, these groups will “be registered and hosted at the refugee camps,” Badu Katelo, the department’s acting commissioner, said in the statement.
The government previously indicated that only people who had fled their countries for asylum in Kenya, not documented refugees, would go to the Kenyan camps, Kitty McKinsey, a UNHCR spokeswoman, said by phone from the capital, Nairobi.
“Many refugees, with identity and working documents, have been living in Nairobi for many years, contributing to the economy and supporting themselves,” she said. “We are trying to get clarification because the press statement is contrary to what they had told us.” The UN describes people who have pending applications for refugees status as asylum seekers.
The Dadaab refugee camp, located near the Somali border, hosts about 450,000 people, predominately Somalis, which is about five times the intended capacity when the facility was built 20 years ago, according to the UN’s website.
As part of the changes announced by the Kenyan government, asylum seekers from outside Somalia must now report to the Kakuma refugee camp near the border with South Sudan, according to the statement by Katelo. The UN-run site holds 80,000 mainly Somalis, as well as Sudanese, Ethiopians and Congolese.
Kenya has blamed al-Qaeda’s affiliate in Somalia, al-Shabaab, for a spate of attacks in the country including the kidnapping of tourists and aid workers and the murder of a British holiday-maker at a luxury coastal resort last year.
There have been at least four grenade attacks since Sept. 30 in the Nairobi suburb of Eastleigh, which is populated by Somali immigrants, including a Dec. 5 incident that left five people dead and injured a member of parliament, Yusuf Hassan.
East Africa’s largest economy deployed troops in neighboring Somalia in October 2011 to end the threat of al-Shabaab. The Kenyan soldiers have become part of the African Union peacekeeping mission supporting Somalia’s military.