Amid rising insecurity, a senior official in Kenya’s North Eastern Province has ordered all refugees and unregistered migrants from neighbouring Somalia to move to the under-resourced Dadaab refugee complex by 20 October or face forced relocation.
Garissa County Commissioner Mohamed Maalim, who chairs the county’s security committee, said the order - publicly announced on 6 October - applied to all “Somali refugees and aliens in towns and trading centres” in the region.
Although Kenya’s refugee policy already requires almost all refugees in the country to stay in established camps, thousands of Somalis have for years been living in north-eastern towns such as Garissa.
Fear of attacks
"The government is convinced beyond any doubts [some of the Somalis] are involved in a spate of heinous attacks, smuggling of explosives and weapons that have been used in all attacks against our security officers, civilians and aid workers," Maalim said.
"Our intelligence reports have established they know criminals amongst them whom they are not willing to expose, either because they are from the same clan while most lack a sense of patriotism to Kenya," he added.
Tension in the region has increased since Kenya deployed troops in Somalia in October 2011 in an operation targeting the Al Shabab militia there. Earlier this month, Kenyan forces dislodged Al Shabab from its last major stronghold, the port city of Kismayo.
There have been several security incidents in recent weeks in Garissa County, including the killing of two police officers and attacks on a police post and police vehicle.
Tens of thousands may be affected
In a situation report released on 17 October, the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) said the relocation order was made in “an apparent reaction to these and other recent incidents.”
The report noted, “In a speech in Garissa, the Minister of Defence Yussuf Haji stated that illegal immigrants were to blame for the escalation of lawlessness in various parts of the country.”
It also said that earlier this month, “the Garissa court ordered 11 refugees who had been arrested and charged for travelling outside the camps without authorization to be returned to the camps. There is a continuous need to sensitize refugees on the consequences of travel without authorization.”
Photo: Christy Gillmore/The Advocacy Project
|Businesses in Garissa may be paralysed by the return-to-camp order for all refugees and unregistered migrants (file photo)|
UNHCR external relations officer Mans Nyberg told IRIN his agency “was in contact with the provincial government in Garissa” about the relocation order, but gave no further details.
He added UNHCR had no information about the numbers of Somali refugees or other Somali nationals who might be affected by the order.
An official with Kenya’s Department of Refugee Affairs told IRIN there were 50,000 refugees in Garissa who are supposed to be in Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee complex, as well as thousands of migrant Somalis who are not registered.
Effects on community, camp
Several Kenyan residents of Garissa told IRIN they were opposed to the relocation order.
"Not all refugees are criminals. The government should carry out a vetting exercise and legalize their stay. Many have children in school. This will separate many families with children in school and will lead to closure of businesses," said one man.
"We shall lose the good work of Somali refugees. They have the best cooks who understand how to make Somali dishes,” said a hotelier who employs many Somalis.
Abdi Nunow, a member of the Garissa National Chamber of Commerce and Industry said the Chamber had petitioned the state to reverse the decision. "I am afraid to say this order has been influenced by sinister motives and malice. Any move to force Somali refugees to leave this town is sabotage. It will paralyze business and deprive us of revenue," he said.
An aid worker in Daadab said the presence of refugees in nearby urban areas had “helped reduce the burden for aid agencies and congestion at the camps. The camps are insecure; people are killed almost every week.”
According to the UNCHR bulletin, “October began with an upsurge in criminal activities in the [Dadaab] refugee camps… Groups of armed men were seen moving around in the camps. On 8 October, a man was shot dead by a lone gunman in Ifo camp… In yet another assassination in the same camp, on 15 October a member of the local Community Peace and Protection Team was killed. On 9 October, a prominent community leader, the Kadhi of Dagahaley, was kidnapped and harassed by a group of masked gunmen who ordered him to stop preaching in the mosque. He was subsequently released.”
Made up of five separate camps housing almost 470,000 people, Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee complex. Funding shortfalls and security conditions have led to a significant reduction of services.
On 1 October Médecins Sans Frontières said it was “alarmed by the lack of shelter and sanitation. The temporary assistance currently being provided is clearly not enough and it is only a matter of time before a new major humanitarian crisis hits the camps again.”