Somali refugees at Dadaab, which is located in north-east Kenya. Dadaab is the world's largest refugee camp complex. © UNHCR / B. Bannon

Somali refugees at Dadaab, which is located in north-east Kenya. Dadaab is the world’s largest refugee camp complex.

GENEVA, April 14 (UNHCR) The UN refugee agency, responding to Kenya’s announcement that the refugee camps should be closed within three months and 350,000 Somali refugees returned home, on Tuesday urged the government to reconsider.

The government’s decision was announced this past weekend following the horrific attack at Garissa University in Kenya earlier this month.

“UNHCR too has been shocked and appalled by the Garissa attack. High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres and his staff stand in solidarity with the people of Kenya. We reiterate our condolences to the families of all the victims,” spokesperson Karin de Gruijl told journalists Tuesday in Geneva.

Kenya has been generously hosting and protecting refugees from violence and persecution in neighbouring Somalia for more than two decades, she said, adding: “UNHCR works closely with the Government of Kenya and we understand well the current regional security situation and the seriousness of the threats Kenya is facing. We also recognize the obligation of the government to ensure the security of its citizens and other people living in Kenya, including refugees.”

But de Gruijl stressed that the refugee agency was “nevertheless concerned that abruptly closing the Dadaab camps and forcing refugees back to Somalia would have extreme humanitarian and practical consequences, and would be a breach of Kenya’s international obligations.”

She added: “We are thus urging the Kenyan authorities to give the matter further consideration. UNHCR stands ready to work closely with the Government of Kenya to strengthen law enforcement at Dadaab and support other measures to protect refugees and Kenyans alike against possible intrusion by armed actors from across the border.”

Last December, a pilot scheme was launched to support people who seek to voluntarily repatriate to one of three relatively safe areas of Somalia, namely Luuq, Baidoa and Kismayo.

UNHCR said it was ready to work with the governments of Kenya and Somalia to step up this programme where there are opportunities for voluntary repatriation. Nonetheless, for now UNHCR considers that large-scale returns are still not possible in many parts of the country, in particular to south-central Somalia.

UNHCR reiterated its continued commitment to supporting the Kenyan government in its protection of Somali refugees going forward.

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