Kenyan court ‘temporarily blocks’ closure of refugee camps

Kenya’s high court has temporarily blocked the closure of two refugee camps hosting more than 400,000 people, according to media reports and activists.

On March 24, Kenyan Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i announced the government’s intention to shut the Dadaab and Kakuma camps, giving the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) two weeks to present a plan to do so. The ministry called this an “ultimatum” and said there was no room for further negotiations.

On Thursday, the court stayed the closure for 30 days, according to a copy of the court seen by news organisations. It originated from a petition filed by a local politician challenging a move to shut down the camps.

In March, the UNHCR urged the government to ensure that those who need protection continue to get it, and pledged to keep engaging in a dialogue.

“The decision would have an impact on the protection of refugees in Kenya, including in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” the UNHCR said in a statement.

‘Terrifying’

The Dadaab and Kakuma refugee camps in northern Kenya together host more than 410,000 people, mainly from Somalia but also from countries such as South Sudan and Ethiopia.

Citing national security concerns, authorities in Nairobi first signalled their plans to shut the Dadaab camp, which is closer to the border with Somalia than Kakuma, back in 2016.

That plan was blocked by the high court, which called the move unconstitutional.