On Tuesday, March 25, the Kenyan government ordered Somali refugees living in Kenya’s urban areas to relocate to and remain in two designated refugee camps. The Kenyan government cited “emergency security challenges” in issuing this directive, claiming that it is an attempt to end attacks by Islamist militants that have been carried out in retaliation for Kenya’s military intervention in Somalia. Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku emphasized that the order is effective immediately and that people found violating the order will be prosecuted. He has urged Kenyans to report any Somali refugees or illegal immigrants found outside the camps, so that they can be “dealt with in accordance with the law.”
Al-Shabab, an Islamic militant group linked with al-Quaeda, has been responsible for a string of attacks in recent years, including a four-day siege at a shopping mall which killed 67 people.
Kenya’s Somali population has long been a productive and important component of its society. Somalia’s civil war and subsequent famine in the early 1990’s killed at least 275,000 people, displaced 2 million, and drove 1.5 million people to flee the country. Hundreds of thousands of these people moved to Kenya, and for the past twenty years, they have contributed to Kenya’s economy and society, such as by establishing businesses.
This order will force an estimated 1.1 million Somali refugees who live and work in Kenya’s cities to relocate. Kenya’s two designated refugee camps, Dadaab and Kakuma, are already overcrowded, and this directive will exacerbate the issue. Additionally, the order violates Kenya’s international law commitments, as Kenya has signed onto agreements allowing for freedom of movement for refugees.
This directive concerns us because it could cause these hundreds of thousands of refugees to suffer hardship in these overcrowded camps, many of them abandoning their homes and businesses in cities where they have lived for over twenty years.
Through our projects, Refugees International Japan seeks to empower refugees to rebuild their lives, such as through the entrepreneurship and resilience long demonstrated by Somali refugees living in Kenya.