Dadaab refugee camp remains open after Kenya appeals ruling

A Kenyan court ruled on Thursday (9 February) that the government must not close the world's largest refugee camp. If closed, the Dagahaley refugee camp in Dadaab, situated northeast of the capital Nairobi near the Somali border, would result in over 200,000 people having to return to war-torn Somalia. The court's decision has eased pressure on Somalis, who feared the camp would close by the end of May 2017.

Aerial view of makeshift shelters at the Dagahaley camp in Dadaab on 3 April 2011Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Rights groups Amnesty International, Kituo cha Sheria and the Kenyan National Commission on Human Rights had challenged the government's order to close the camp, which has operated for more than a quarter of a century.

Judge John Mativo said Kenya's internal security minister had abused his power by ordering the closure of Dadaab camp, adding that the minister and other officials had "acted in excess and in abuse of their power, in violation of the rule of law and in contravention of their oaths of office". The judge called the order discriminatory, saying it went against the Kenyan constitution as well as international treaties that protect refugees against being returned to a conflict zone.

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Men who have recently arrived to the camp, jostle to queue outside a food distribution centre at the Ifo refugee camp in Dadaab on 1 August 2011Thomas Mukoya/Reuters
Somali refugees unload their belongings as they arrive by bus at the reception center in Ifo settlement at Kenya's Dadaab Refugee Camp on 1 September 2011Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Kenya's government quickly said it will appeal the ruling. "Being a government whose cardinal responsibility is first to Kenyans, we feel this decision should be revoked," spokesman Eric Kiraithe told the Associated Press. The judge called the order to shut down the government's refugee department "null and void" stating that President Uhuru Kenyatta's administration had not proved that Somalia is safe to return to.

Two children walk together amongst makeshift homes, or "tukuls", in the outskirts of Dagahaley settlement at Kenya's Dadaab Refugee Camp on 31 August 2011Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Somali refugees peep through a barbwire fence of a United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) distribution centre during a food distribution exercise in Dagahale, one of several refugee settlements in Dadaab on 8 October 2013Siegfried Modola/Reuters
Two women in conversation during a distribution exercise at a United Nations World Food Programme (WFP) centre in Dagahale, one of the several refugee settlements in Dadaab 8 October 2013Siegfried Modola/Reuters
Thousands of Somali refugees pray during Eid al-Fitr celebrations in the Ifo marketplace at Kenya's Dadaab Refugee Camp on 30 August 2011Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Said Abuka, a community leader in Nairobi and a refugee for 22 years, said the court ruling would help the Somali refugees. Newborn babies could not be registered as refugees because of the closure of Kenya's refugee department, he said. "After months of anxiety because of the camp closure deadline hanging over their heads, increasingly restricted asylum options and the recent US administration suspension of refugee resettlement, the court's judgment offers Somali refugees a hope that they may still have a choice other than returning to insecure and drought-ridden Somalia," said Laetitia Bader, Africa researcher at Human Rights Watch.

US President Donald Trump's temporary ban on travel from seven majority Muslim countries, including Somalia, had put added pressure on the Dadaab refugees. Last weekend, roughly 140 of the Somali refugees who had been on the brink of resettling in the United States were sent back to Dadaab instead.

A woman carrying a baby disembarks from a bus at the Ifo reception centre at Kenya's Dadaab Refugee Camp on 1 September 2011Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
Somali refugees receive a portion of wheat flour at the World Food Programme distribution center in the Ifo settlement at Kenya's Dadaab Refugee Camp on 1 September 2011Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
A newly arrived refugee child drinks inside their tent in the Baley settlement near the Ifo extension refugee camp in Dadaab on 27 July 2011Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

Somalia remains under threat of attacks from homegrown extremist group al-Shabaab. Some Kenyan officials have argued that the sprawling refugee camp near the border with Somalia has been used as a recruiting ground for the militant group, and a base for launching attacks inside Kenya. However, Kenyan officials have not provided conclusive proof of this.

Al-Shabaab has carried out several attacks on Kenya, which sent troops to Somalia in 2011 to fight the militants. The attacks include the September 2013 armed siege on Westgate mall that killed 67 people and the 2015 attack on Garissa University that killed 148 people, mostly students.

A Somali woman waits to be registered by the United Nations High Commission of Refugees at Dagahaley camp in Dadaab on 3 June 2009Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters
Children sing a song of welcome at a primary school in Dagahale, one of several refugee settlements in Dadaab, Garissa County, northeastern Kenya on 9 October 2013Siegfried Modola/Reuters
A radio presenter prepares to talk on air during a live interview at the "Gargaar" (Help in Somali) Star FM, a local radio station for refugee voices at a UNHCR field office in Hagadera, one of the several refugee settlements in Dadaab on 8 October 2013Siegfried Modola/Reuters
Fatuma Dayoo is treated in the stabilisation unit for complications due to severe malnourishment, in the International Rescue Committee hospital at the Hagadera settlement of Kenya's Dadaab Refugee Camp on 31 August 2011Jonathan Ernst/Reuters
A Somali child, suffering from malnutrition, is wrapped in an cloth at a therapeutic feeding centre at Dagahaley camp in Dadaab on 8 June 2009Finbarr O'Reilly/Reuters
Children sing a song of welcome at a primary school in Dagahale, one of several refugee settlements in Dadaab on 31 August 2011Siegfried Modola/Reuters
The sun sets over the Ifo extension refugee camp in Dadaab on 31 July 2011Thomas Mukoya/Reuters

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