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Dadaab, the largest refugee base in the world, is set to close by May 2017. Set up in 1991 to accommodate refugees fleeing from the Somali civil war, Dadaab has been hosting refugees for over 25 years.  The complex holds around 280,000 refugees, of which 260,000 are Somali. Plans to close the camp by the end of November were recently pushed back a further six months due to appeals from the UN and aid groups on the basis of humanitarian grounds.

Following Al-Shabaab attacks on Westgate and Garissa University, the Kenyan government has labelled Dadaab a threat to national security claiming that militant extremists have infiltrated the camp and are using it as a recruitment ground. In April, Kenya silently revoked prima facie status for Somalis. This means that group determination is no longer an option for those fleeing Somalia and that individuals seeking refuge in Kenya will now have to apply for asylum on a case-by-case basis.

The Tripartite Agreement, signed in November 2013 by the governments of Kenya and Somalia and the UNHCR, was a pledge to facilitate the voluntary return of Somali refugees to designated areas. However, in light of continuous instability and poor economic prospects, repatriation has been slower than anticipated. So far, only 29,000 refugees returned to Somalia from Dadaab in 2016.

Human rights organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have condemned the return of refugees due to political instability and insecurity in Somalia. It has also been questioned to what extent this repatriation is occurring voluntarily.  Amnesty reported that a number of individuals residing in the camp feel they have no choice but to return back to Somalia due to increasing pressure from Kenyan officials and fear that they may not be able to access their $400 financial support package.

Despite concerns that people will be returning to a violent country experiencing food insecurity, the Government of Kenya is committed to speeding up the process and closing the camp as soon as possible. Speaking at a news conference, Kenyan interior minister, Joseph Ole Nkaissery, stated that “the government has accepted the request to extend the deadline for the completion of repatriation of Somali refugees, and this is essential to the closure of the Dadaab refugee complex, [in] six months. However, the on-going voluntary repatriation will continue uninterrupted”.

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Featured Image by Oxfam East Africa – Hundreds of families are arriving in Dadaab camp every day, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=16001860