Kenya Orders Somali Refugee Camp Sheltering Thousands to Move

By Lisa Vives

NEW YORK, Apr 14 2015 (IPS) – The United Nations, which is sheltering over 600,000 refugees from war-torn Somalia, has been ordered by Kenyan authorities to relocate the camp in three months.

“We have asked the UNHCR (the U.N. Refugee Agency) to relocate the refugees in three months, failure to which we shall relocate them ourselves,” said Kenya’s deputy president William Ruto in a statement Saturday.

“The way America changed after 9/11 is the way Kenya will change after Garissa,” he said, referring to the university that was attacked by Somali militants on Apr. 2.

Dadaab, the camp near the border with Somalia, is the largest refugee camp in Africa.

Macharia Munene, professor of international relations at the United States International University-Africa, said the logistics of moving hundreds of thousands of refugees across the border would be “a tall order”.

But he said there were now safe areas within Somalia from where the al Shabab armed group had been chased out by African Union forces in recent years.

“Kenya is in an emergency situation… Each country has an obligation to look after its people first,” he told Reuters.

In an effort to reassure Kenyans that the government is concerned with their safety, Kenya has been building a 440-mile wall along the entire length of the border with Somalia to keep out al Shabab militants.

But according to security and policy analyst Abdulahi Boru Halakhe, the strategy is ill-conceived. “Building the wall assumes that all al-Shabab members come from Somalia and ignores the group’s cells in Kenya and easy routes through neighboring Uganda and Tanzania,” he wrote in an opinion for Al Jazeera news.

“In fact, the suspected mastermind of the Garissa attack was a Kenyan schoolteacher from the town, and one of his accomplices was a son of a Kenyan government official.”

Joshua Meservey of the Atlantic Council’s Africa Center expressed his view that Kenya was scapegoating the mostly Muslim refugees for their own security failings.

Further, suggested Mohamed Abdi, a refugee at the camp, moving the camp inside Somalia would boost al-Shabab’s recruitment efforts among the camp’s impoverished men, whose livelihoods would be threatened if their homes are displaced.

Meanwhile, the UNHCR claims it has not received any official communication from Kenyan authorities but rejects the apparent effort to use the refugees as scapegoats.

“Blanket measures that target people based on nationality or membership of a group will only cause suffering to innocent people and are usually ineffective,” said UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards. Three months, he added, is not realistic for such a relocation.