Kenya Pushes For Close Of Word's Largest Refugee Camp

May 4, 2015
Originally published on May 5, 2015 2:50 pm
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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

A temporary respite came for nearly a quarter million Somali refugees. Secretary of State John Kerry is in Nairobi today, and he announced that despite earlier threats to the contrary, the Kenyan government will not seek the closure of the world's largest refugee camp, known as Dadaab. But as NPR's Gregory Warner reports, the fate of the camp's residents is still uncertain.

GREGORY WARNER, BYLINE: Over the decades of conflict in Somalia, with refugees fleeing over the border into Kenya, the Dadaab refugee camp has swelled in size, and it's swelled in the Kenyan imagination as a symbol of the country's porousness and insecurity. Last month, Somali al-Shabab militants attacked a Kenyan university. They killed 148 people. And though none of the attackers was apparently from the camp, the Kenyan vice president, William Ruto, gave the U.N. a three-month deadline to close the camp and relocate more than 300,000 residents. Secretary of State John Kerry in Nairobi today said he shared Kenya's frustration.

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SECRETARY OF STATE JOHN KERRY: Refugee camps are supposed to be temporary - not supposed to become permanent cities in another nation.

WARNER: But he said the Kenyan president, Uhuru Kenyatta, had assured him that the camp would stay open until the refugees could willingly return home.

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KERRY: To be able to return home in an orderly and voluntary manner with dignity and with safety.

WARNER: Even as Kerry was promising a speedy homecoming, he announced $45 million to improve the camp infrastructure and safety. After all, it wasn't clear when Somalia would be safe enough to return home to. Leslie Lefkow at Human Rights Watch notes that what about the many refugees in the camp that have no home in Somalia?

LESLIE LEFKOW: For example, younger people who've grown up in the camps, do not know Somalia at all, are in many respects more Kenyan than Somali.

WARNER: Kenya has made their path to citizenship more difficult. It's now much harder for refugees to leave the camp to seek employment or attend university. Dadaab camp may remain open for now, but deepening tensions between Kenya and its massive refugee population could make it harder to gather the intelligence to prevent the next terrorist attack - an attack that, when it comes, will likely prompt more angry calls for closing Dadaab. Gregory Warner, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.