It has become nearly impossible for Kenya to shut down Dadaab, which is hosting hundreds of thousands of refugees from Somalia, the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) has said.
The organisation’s country director for Kenya and Tanzania, Neil Turner, said “many of the inhabitants fled Somalia because of political instability in the ’90s and have settled in Dadaab’s camps after decades in Kenya”.
In 2016, the Kenyan government said it will close Dadaab, located near the border with Somalia, following deadly militant attacks in the region.
The refugee complex is home to hundreds of thousands of Somali refugees and rights groups have condemned Kenya’s plans to shut it down due to security concerns in Somalia.
Nearly 80,000 refugees have gone back home voluntarily since Nairobi’s announcement but “fewer people have chosen to return to Somalia so far in 2018”, said the NRC.
“Our assumption is that those people who, for whatever reason, might join the voluntary return programme have already done that,” Turner said.
Still, those returning to Somalia face many challenges, according to the Norwegian NGO, including “getting land, housing and property”.
“Some may end up leaving for Dadaab a second time. For the ones who return to Dadaab, it is almost impossible to get renewed refugee documentation. Without documentation, people have no right to food, shelter and healthcare.”
In 2017, a Kenyan high court judge ruled that the closure of the camp would be illegal and would violate the refugees’ basic human rights.
Somalia’s current foreign affairs minister and former ambassador to the US Ahmed Awad has also condemned the plan to shut down the camp, warning that it might strain relations between the two east African neighbours.
According to UK-based Care International, “Dadaab is not a usual refugee camp; it has five sectors and is more like a small city”.
The complex is home to 235,269 registered refugees and asylum seekers as at the end of January 2018, according to the latest figures from UNHCR, the UN refugee agency.