The government appears committed in its latest effort to close Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps. The main premise of its argument is that terrorist groups such as Al-Shabaab have been and continue to use the camps, especially Dadaab, as a recruitment and planning base as well as a staging post for executing terrorist attacks.
The government seems to believe that somehow closing the refugee camps will reduce, if not prevent, future terrorist attacks. The fact of the matter is that closing down the refugee camps will be of no practical significance in deterring future terrorist attacks. The insinuation that there is a nexus between the existence of the refugee camps and increased incidents of terrorism is, at the very least, tenuous.
I do not think the refugee camps present any greater a security challenge or threat than the sprawling informal settlements in urban centres such as Nairobi would, for example. The major difference is that the refugee camps happen to be located in far-flung corners of the country where the presence of security agencies is light on the ground, if not non-existent.
Pursuit of clan dominance by various warring factions in Somali in the early 1990s following the overthrow of Siad Barre put the country on a trajectory to self-destruction. Since then, and despite regional and global peace efforts, the country has been swinging hopelessly between chaos and utter anarchy. The country has not had a stable government for decades now.
Dadaab camp is home to more than 400,000 refugees, nearly 60 per cent of them children under the age of 18. The camp has been a home away from home for hundreds of thousands of refugees and asylum seekers from the Horn of Africa fleeing war, persecution, and hunger.
It is reasonable to make the assumption that most of the refugees and asylum seekers still in the camps and those who have managed to find a permanent home in other countries greatly appreciate the hospitality extended to them by our country. It is the right thing to do, extending a hand to those in desperate need.
OFFER REFUGEES PROTECTION
As a signatory of the UN Refugee Convention, Kenya not only has a humanitarian obligation to uphold the rights of refugees and asylum seekers, it must also offer them protection. Closing down the camps and repatriating asylum-seekers and refugees will be tantamount to sending them into harm’s way, given the state of security in their countries.
Sending refugees and asylum seekers back to Somalia, for example, where they will be exposed to Al-Shabaab’s brutality, the reason some of them fled the country in the first place, is both reckless and irresponsible. It hardly rings as a humane act. Closing down Kakuma and Dadaab will in no way prevent future terrorist attacks because the problem in many ways has a domestic dimension. Al-Shabaab, for example, has been recruiting its members from our community.
Some of the foot soldiers who have executed attacks in the country are Kenyans and the closure of the camp would not have prevented these strikes. We need to develop a robust counter-terrorism strategy that seeks to systematically address the root causes of terrorism. The vulnerable refugees being sent across the border into Somalia will provide Al-Shabaab with a pool of potential new recruits either through coercion or willingly. Given the hopeless situation returning refugees will face, joining Al-Shabaab would be an attractive proposition.
By expelling refugees, Kenya would simply have exponentially increased the pool of potential recruits for Al-Shabaab, a security menace we are trying to curb and the main reason our troops are still in Somalia.
Mr Nyasani is a political and security analyst. firstname.lastname@example.org.