The decision by the Kenyan government to close the world’s largest refugee camp has been met with both enthusiasm and condemnation as up to 600,000 people stand to be repatriated after most were displaced from neighboring Somalia because of violent, political conflict there.
The Dadaab camp, which is scheduled to be shuttered by May 2017, has been called dangerous in part over suspicions it’s become a breeding ground for terrorism, something the government said it is taking steps to quell by closing the camp. In particular, government and security officials believe there in an al-Shabab sleeper cell there. The Somalia-based al-Shabab militant group has launched a series of terror attacks on the region in recent months.
However, refugee advocacy groups, including the UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, decried the decision and appealed to the Kenyan government to reconsider its decision.
“It is with profound concern that UNHCR takes note of this announcement,” UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards said in a statement. “For almost a quarter of a century, Kenya has played a vital role in East Africa and the Horn of Africa in providing asylum to people forced to flee persecution and war.”
In addition to having suspected terror cells in operation at Dadaab, there may be other nefarious issues at play there, Kenyan media outlet the Star reported. Those include a “thriving illicit trade,” said Kenya Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho.
Dadaab has been in existence for 25 years and was established in part as a response to a coup d’état in Somalia, where the president was ousted in 1991. Somalis fled their native land to Kenya for refuge, but over the years the Dadaab camp has had its share of controversy, including allegations of police abusing refugees as well as the suspicions over terrorism. The camp is enclosed and the fencing on its perimeter is topped with coiled razors.
Refugees in the camp have also benefited from the schools there, which have provided many Somali children with an education when other Kenyan schools would not admit them. Sentiment for the Dadaab refugees has resonated across the globe, with a group of Canadians holding a fundraiser to help supplement the costs of educating children at the camp.
The photos below offer a closer look at various aspects of daily life at the Dadaab camp.