Agencies mount successful lobby to expand Dadaab

Friday February 10 2017

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Sometime last year, Amnesty International published a report that said Kenyans were among those considered the most hospitable people in the world.

But the ‘Welcoming Survey’ in May last year also came the same week Kenya announced it would close down Dadaab for security reasons.

Kenya’s fight with Dadaab started sometime in 2010.

As the Horn of Africa fought drought and emergence of militants in Somalia, more refugees poured into the country.

The numbers peaked in November 2011 as UNHCR said 3,000 people were seeking shelter at the camp daily.

Dadaab then had about 600,000 people, twice the size of Nakuru town.

The four sub-camps — Hagdera, Ifo, Dagahaley and Kambios — were getting full and relief agencies started agitating for the expansion of Dadaab.

Citing Kenya’s obligations under the refugee treaties, the relief agencies' successful lobby led to the creation of Ifo II.

Later, the drought situation subsided and most refugees returned on their own volition.

By 2013, Dadaab had about 400,000 refugees.

In September 2013, Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR signed a tripartite agreement, to last three years, that all refugees should voluntarily leave the camp.

The pact, however, suffered from the start. Out of the 400,000 refugees, just under 20,000 returned through this arrangement, although UNHCR claimed more than 100,000 left.

The programme also suffered financial problems and UNHCR admitted it would not be able to repatriate all the refugees by the expiry date of the agreement in November.

In 2015, Kenya announced a decision to close down Dadaab after security agencies claimed the attack on Garissa University in April of that year had been planned inside the camp.

Humanitarian agencies refuted this claim, saying refugees were innocent people being thrown in harm’s way.

The UNHCR said it would not take part in forcible closure and Kenya shelved the plan after it emerged it would be too costly.

Later that year, the UNHCR, Kenya and Somalia organised a donor pledging conference in Brussels last October.

But donors only pledged a fifth of their initial target of Sh50 billion.

It was one thing to pledge and another to disburse the money.

The money did not come, and time for the tripartite agreement was running out.

In May last year, Kenya again said it would shut down Dadaab, announcing an initial Sh1 billion for the project.

“As part of concluding this arrangement, Kenya is committed to close Dadaab Refugee Complex,” Interior CS Joseph Nkaissery said.

At the time, Kenya was buoyed by a decision of the African Union Peace and Security Council, which agreed during the 590th meeting, that Dadaab was a security threat.

In November, the government said it was delaying closure following pressure from donors.

“The government has accepted the request to extend the deadline for the completion of repatriation of Somali refugees, and this is essential to the closure of the Dadaab refugee complex, in six months,” Mr Nkaissery told journalists in Nairobi then.

Yesterday’s High Court ruling now means that will not happen. The government has said it will appeal the ruling.