The Kenyan High Court has stopped Kenya’s plan to close Dadaab Refugee Camp, calling it unconstitutional and an act of group persecution.
Delivering the ruling on Thursday, High Court Judge John Mativo said the government’s decision to completely shut down the refugee camp in Northern Kenya is illegal and discriminatory.
But in a quick rejoinder, the Kenyan government vowed to appeal the decision, sticking to its earlier argument that the camp, which is the largest refugee camp in the world, has become a safe haven for Al-Shaabab, an Islamic terrorist group from Somalia.
“The camp had lost its humanitarian nature and had become a haven for terrorism and other illegal activities. The lives of Kenyans matter. Our interest in this case and in the closure of Dadaab Refugee Camp remains,” Kenyan government spokesman Eric Kiraithe said.
Human rights groups in Kenya had moved the issue to court last year in order to stop the Kenyan government from closing the refugee camp. The groups argued that it was against international law for Kenya to forcibly repatriate refugees to the war-torn Somalia.
The ruling comes at a time when thousands of Somali refugees living in Dadaab camp have already been deported to Somalia in the ongoing repatriation initiative by the Kenyan government.
World’s Largest Refugee Camp
The camp, which is located on the border between Kenya and Somalia, is estimated to host more than 350,000 refugees — the majority being from Somalia and Ethiopia.
Dadaab camp was established in 1991 to host refugees fleeing war in neighboring Somalia, which is still immersed in a deadly civil war that has given birth to the region’s aforementioned Al-Shaabab.
Some people have lived in the camp for more than 20 years and are reluctant to return to Somalia, where they claim they lost everything in the war.
Amnesty International has released a statement in support of the ruling, saying Kenya has an obligation to protect defenseless refugees fleeing war and persecution.
“Stopping the imminent closure of Dadaab refugee camp is an essential first step in respecting and protecting refugee rights in Kenya. Now Kenya and the international community must work towards finding alternative solutions for refugees including local integration options,” the rights group said.
But the Kenyan government insists that the camp has become a breeding ground for Al-Shaabab, adding that some of the major terror attacks that have happened in Kenya were planned in the camp.
Currently, Kenya is constructing a 435-mile border fence along the Kenyan-Somali border in an attempt to ward off the militants.