Kenya, which hosts as many as 600,000 refugees mainly from neighboring Somalia, said it would close down its two biggest refugee camps because of the “very heavy” economic, security and environmental costs.
“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,” the Interior Ministry said on Friday in an e-mailed statement.
The Dadaab and Kakuma camps will be closed in “the shortest time possible” and the country’s Department of Refugee Affairs has been disbanded, according to the statement.
The ministry said the slow nature of repatriating refugees posed a threat because the camps gave cover to militants such as al-Shabaab, an al-Qaeda-linked group from Somalia.
Tens of thousands of Somalia refugees have returned home under a voluntary repatriation program started by Kenya, the UN and Somalia at the end of 2014. Aid groups have said a mass repatriation isn’t yet possible because of insecurity and lack of services in Somalia.
Human rights group Amnesty International termed Kenya’s decision as “reckless,” saying the East African nation was abdicating its responsibilities under international law to protect vulnerable people. Dadaab, which opened in 1991, is one of the biggest refugee settlements in the world.
Doctors Without Borders, a medical agency that operates in Dabaab, said the closure may put the lives of 330,000 refugees at risk and those expelled to Somalia will have little access to health care and aid after more than two decades of ongoing conflict.