Kenya to close two huge refugee camps, sending 600,000 home

Not since World War II have there been as many refugees as we see today.  Some sources put the number of displaced people at more than 60 million, including about 8 million internally displaced Syrians. 

The refugees have to go somewhere, so they end up in huge camps that have become breeding grounds for disease, terrorism, and misery.  The world response to this crisis is about what you'd imagine; halting, confused, and critically underfunded.

The U.S. has given more than $4 billion to Syrian refugees alone, making the United States the biggest contributor by far.  Private U.S. charities have given twice that much.  But most of the economic burden for refugees falls on the host country.

In the case of Kenya, the government has said enough is enough.  They are eliminating the ministry in charge of refugees and closing two huge camps where 600,000 mostly Somali and South Sudanese refugees took shelter. 

The humanitarian disaster that sent these people fleeing their homes will be nothing compared to the catastrophe of sending them back.

Philadelphia Tribune:

The Kenyan government said Friday it will close two refugee camps, including one of the world’s biggest, due to a lack of security and economic challenges as human rights groups condemned the plan.

The closure of the camps will have adverse effects and the international community should collectively take responsibility for the humanitarian needs that arise, Karanja Kibicho, permanent secretary at the Interior Ministry, said.

The government has disbanded the Department of Refugee Affairs, which works with humanitarian organizations looking after the welfare of refugees, Kibicho said.

The voluntary repatriation process in an agreement signed by the United Nations High Commission for Refugees, Kenyan government and the Somali government in 2013 has been very slow, Kibicho said.

He said Kenya has been hosting the refugees for nearly 25 years and it has taken its toll on the country.

The camps targeted for closure are Daadab and Kakuma. Daadab in eastern Kenya is the largest, with more than 328,000 refugees, mainly Somalis escaping conflict in their war-torn country that is struggling to defeat an insurgency by the al-Qaida-linked al-Shabab insurgents. The Kakuma camp hosts 190,000 refugees, the majority of them South Sudanese escaping civil war in their country.

Kibicho said the camps have bred terrorists from al-Shabab. Al-Shabab has vowed attacks on Kenya for sending troops to Somalia to fight the militants as part of the African Union forces bolstering Somalia’s weak government. Two attackers in the September 21 Westgate Mall in Nairobi in which 63 people were killed lived in Kakuma camp.

It’s not the first time Kenya has threatened to send home the refugees and international rights groups condemned the move.

“Officials have not provided credible evidence linking Somali refugees to any terrorist attacks in Kenya. Human Rights Watch is not aware of convictions of Somali refugees in connection with any attack in Kenya,” Human Rights Watch said in a statement.

Amnesty International said the move is reckless and could lead to the involuntary return of refugees to countries where their lives could still be in danger.

Kenya is telling the rest of the world to fish or cut bait when it comes to resettling the refugees.  In typical U.N. fashion, the 25-year process of sending these people home has proceeded at snail's pace.  There are glaciers in the world that move faster. 

Will they actually start these people on their way home?  I don't see this as a realistic option.  There's no way that the U.N. could possibly feed and care for 600,000 people on the march who are hundreds of miles from home.  So Kenya, while serious about getting more help and speeding the process of resettlement, felt that this was the only option to wake the world up and take notice of their plight.

The world is paying attention now.

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