In what's being condemned as an utterly inhumane and disastrous move, Kenya will soon close all of its refugee camps. This includes Dadaab, a camp along the Kenya-Somalia border, which stands as the largest refugee camp in the world with over 300,000 people.
Kenya's government cited economic and security concerns, including terror-related threats from groups like Al Shabaab, as its motives for this controversial decision.
Karanja Kibicho, Kenya's secretary for the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade, said,
Kenya, having taken into consideration its national security interests, has decided that hosting of refugees has come to an end. The Government of Kenya acknowledges that the decision will have adverse effects on the lives of refugees and therefore the international community must collectively take responsibility on humanitarian needs that will arise out of this action.
Correspondingly, Mwenda Njoka, an interior ministry spokesman, stated,
The message is clear; we are closing the camps and we will not accept more refugees in the country.
It's not clear exactly when the refugee camps will be closed, but when they are, an estimated 600,000 people will be displaced.
Kenya is willingly displacing thousands upon thousands of people whose lives were ravaged by war, poverty and persecution.
Unsurprisingly, human rights groups strongly condemn this move, as it's arguably one of the most inhumane decisions regarding refugees in recent memory.
Speaking with The Independent, Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International's regional director in East Africa, stated,
This reckless decision by the Kenyan government is an abdication of its duty to protect the vulnerable and will put thousands of lives at risk. It could lead to the involuntary return of thousands of refugees to Somalia and other countries of origin, where their lives may still be in danger. This would be in violation of Kenya's obligations under international law.
Liesbeth Aelbrecht of Doctors Without Borders (MSF), expressed similar sentiments. She said,
MSF is urging the government to reconsider this call, and - alongside the international organisations already present in the camp - to continue to provide humanitarian assistance and ensure acceptable living conditions for the hundreds of thousands of people who desperately need it.
The UN refugee agency (UNHCR) is also taking a vehement stand against this, and Human Rights Watch asserts there is no "credible evidence" refugees in Kenya are linked to any terror-related threats or attacks.
As Liesbeth Aelbrecht put it, this is yet another example of the "blatant neglect" of millions of refugees worldwide.
We are currently witnessing the worst refugee crisis in recent history, largely due to ongoing conflicts like the devastating war in Syria. As of 2015, one in every 122 humans is either a refugee, internally displaced or seeking asylum, according to the UNHCR.
In this context, many would argue countries should be doing everything they can to help people whose lives were turned upside down by violence and destruction. Kenya, however, is planning to do the exact opposite.