The High Court in Nairobi has quashed the Kenya government's plan to close down the Dadaab refugee camp.
On Thursday, Justice John Mativo ruled that Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery and Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho acted beyond their powers in issuing the directive to close down the camp.
The court also declared the repatriation of refugees unconstitutional and described it as discriminative.
The judge directed the government to adopt mechanisms that would ensure the department of refugees is functioning properly.
Notices published in the Kenya Gazette announcing repatriation of refugees were declared null and void.
Last May, Mr Nkaissery announced the government was shutting down the camp by November 2016, citing security, environmental and economic concerns, and accused the international donors of doing little to support refugees.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and rights groups Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International had publicly condemned the move.
Mr Nkaissery insisted the “decision to close Dadaab was based on serious security considerations.”
The Jubilee government put Sh1 billion into the programme meant to hasten the closure, and appointed a special task force to look into ways of doing so.
In November, the government extended the deadline for closing the Dadaab refugee complex in what it said was the “delicate security situation in Somalia.”
KENYA TO APPEAL
But hours after the verdict, the government said it would appeal, with Government spokesman Eric Kiraithe saying while the Jubilee administration was law abiding, it would not go change the decision.
Garissa University attack in 2014, Mr Kiraithe said, was planned and executed by Al-Shabaab from the camp that hosted up to 600,000 refugees years ago.
He added that Somalia now has a government under President-elect and therefore the refugees will have a stable country to go back to.
Kenya, he said, has freely been taking in refugees with more than 200,000 in the country even against the international standards but time had come for them to return home
The fight over refugees' return intensified as the World Bank announced a Sh10 billion fund meant to support communities that host refugees in Kenya, in what could be a response to growing complaints that refugees are favoured by donors.
World Bank Country Director Diariétou Gaye on Thursday said the Bank would pump a pool of $100 million to three counties in Kenya that have traditionally hosted refugees.
The idea, she said, would help improve the relationship between local communities and refugees living in Turkana, Wajir and Garissa counties.
The board of the bank will discuss and endorse the fund this April before initial projects targeting Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps start in July.
The bank says the five-year project will help improve the life, and environment around Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps, even as the government battles to close the latter down.
The Bank says it is coming on board to supplement the projects done through the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), following persistent complaints that local communities do not share in the relief programmes channelled to refugees.
“We did a previous study on the situation of refugees in the whole of Africa and what we found out was that the refugee host communities are worse off than refugees themselves and there have been a lot of deficits in development,” said Varalakshmi Vemuru, a Senior Social Development Specialist at the World Bank who is involved in the project.
“The whole issue is how we can help our counties to use existing facilities to serve both communities. That is why we are looking at area-based planning. We are telling our partners that don’t look at today and tomorrow, look at the long term,” she added in an interview.
Turkana West, Wajir South, Lagdera and Fafi sub counties will be initial beneficiaries, as the bank seeks to boost sanitation, education and health facilities.
The project will incidentally begin with Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the country and currently hosting 256, 868 refugees, who mainly come from Somalia, according to latest figures from the UNHCR.
“There is a lot of competition for resources. Our project aims at helping the host communities to fill this gap of development, for example helping pastoralist communities to move to more market more responsive practices.
“We will bring all partners on board. We will put county governments in the lead and they will take charge and set the agenda. The idea is to ensure that those development deficits are cleared,” she added.
It is this camp that Kenya claims hosts terrorist sympathisers and wanted closed to secure the country, something the UN and relief NGOs opposed.
Thought to control an economy of about Sh10 billion and a population the size of Kenya’s fourth largest city, the refugee camp has also been a source of livelihood for many aid workers.
However, these fruits rarely reach the local communities and a previous study by the government once found that refugees, who depend mainly on firewood for fuel, leave the areas more environmentally dilapidated than before.
“The tradition has often been that refugee camps are isolated from the people. And you could see everything going to them and there were so many complaints such that people had to demonstrate and barricade the road so that they can be listened to and given any assistance,” Turkana Governor Josephat Nanok told the Nation in Nairobi.
His County hosts Kakuma Refugee Camp with more than 120,000 refugees.
“What we wanted is to innovate and I think the whole world is thinking of new strategies to support refugees and host communities. The idea is once Kakuma is closed and the refugees return home, Kakuma should not be a ghost town. The people should be empowered so go on with life even after refugees have gone.”
On Thursday, the World Bank launched a report meant to argue for more integration between refugees and locals.
The report, In My Backyard? The Economics of Refugees and their Social Dynamics in Kakuma, suggests that refugees generally bring in economic benefits to locals if they can integrate and that policy makers should support both locals and refugees.
Reported by Maureen Kakah, Aggrey Mutambo and Collins Omulo.