Kenya has tightened its decision to control the mushrooming number of refugees in the country by calling for support to have many of them return to Somalia.
On Friday, President Kibaki told reporters after hosting his Somalia counterpart Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud that “there is no dignity in living in refugee camps” adding that he would like to see the thousands hosted at Dadaab go back home.
“Our two governments will work together to enable the hundreds of thousands of Somalia people who are living in refugee camps return to their homes,” he said at State House.
“We also call on the international community to play their part and help the people of Somalia live in honourable lives in their homes” he added.
The announcement followed an earlier declaration by the Department of Refugees Affairs to ban any registration of refugees in towns but only in designated refugee camps.
“The Government of Kenya has decided to stop reception, registration and will close down all registrations centres in urban areas with immediate effect,” said the acting Commissioner for the Department of Refugee Affairs Badu Katelo in a notice published dailies last Tuesday.
Mr Katelo said that all refugees from Somalia should report to Dadaab refugee camp while asylum seekers from other countries should go to Kakuma.
The registration, he said, would now be done in the camps and asked the UN agency for refugees (UNHCR) to stop giving any direct services to those in urban areas.
The announcement was not just targeting refugees from Somalia but also those from South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, three countries that have contributed to the more than 1.1 million exiles in Kenya.
The government argues refugees have been linked to recent grenade attacks both in Nairobi and parts of North eastern region including Garissa town and Dadaab itself and that this latest decision was meant to ensure the safety of Kenyans.
But both UNHCR and Amnesty International argued the resolution was illegal and against the human rights for refugees.
The UN agency accused the government of hurrying the decision without consulting the relevant stakeholders saying it was insensitive to the rights and plight of refugees.
“This restriction on freedom of movement is likely to lead to other serious human rights abuses in already overcrowded, insecure refugee camps,” Amnesty International’s East Africa observer Kathryn Achilles said.
“The government cannot simply scapegoat refugees and asylum-seekers en masse for security incidents. Targeting entire groups of people and blaming them in this way is unacceptable. It is not, and never can be, an appropriate response to security concerns.”
The decision, if implementing would mean the more than 500,000 Somali refugees registered in Kenya, and some living in Nairobi, Nakuru and Mombasa will have to move to Dadaab.
But UNHCR has said before the camp that was originally designed to host only 90,000 people already has six times this number.
By the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, Kenya is under an obligation to protect those seeking asylum on their territory.
But Kenya and Somalia on Friday signed a joint communiqué to cement this resolve.
“The two leaders have acknowledged the situation of Somali refugees who live in crowded conditions in camps in Dadaab and Kakuma in northern Kenya,” it said.
“(They) pledged to work together and with the international community to come up with modalities for their orderly return to Somalia to rebuild their lives and participate in the development of their mother land.”
It remains to be seen how soon this will be implemented especially since Somalia is still fragile.
In the ten-point dispatch, the two leaders also asked for the UN to extend the mandate of the African Union mission in Somalia (Amisom) to help sustain peace.