Before Closing Refugee Camps in Kenya, “exert maximum forethought, caution”: Jesuit Agency

The leadership of the international refugee entity of the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), has urged the Kenyan government to “exert maximum forethought and caution” before implementing its decision to close two major refugee camps in the country.

In a Wednesday, April 14 statement obtained by ACI Africa, JRS leadership “recommends that the Government of Kenya exert maximum forethought and caution in this particular time of uncertainty, wisely considering the legal obligations imposed by international law and the Organization of African Unity (OAU) Convention.”

The legal obligations include “the principle of non-refoulement, the practical limitations of closing large-scale refugee camps hosting more than 410,000 people and the moral obligation to take care of the most vulnerable in society and to pursue the common good,” JRS officials add.

In the statement, officials of the refugee agency that has been running programs in Kenya for the last 27 years acknowledge with appreciation the “efforts and commitment shown by the Government of Kenya to generously welcome and protect refugees and displaced people over the years, playing a lead role within the region and assuring a safe space to thousands of families seeking asylum.”

“JRS also recognizes that the situation in Kenya for forcibly displaced people from Somalia, South Sudan, the Great Lakes and more recently from the Tigray Region in Ethiopia is becoming worse, due to protracted and emerging conflicts and the Covid-19 pandemic,” they add.


Further, the leadership of the 40-year-old Jesuit agency goes on to reaffirm the appeal made by Catholic Bishops in Kenya urging the government to reconsider its decision to close Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps, located in Northern Kenya.

In their April 9 collective statement obtained by ACI Africa, members of the Kenya Conference of Catholic Bishops (KCCB) termed the plans to close the two camps as “unfortunate” and “regrettable.”

“It is highly unfortunate and regrettable that the intention by the Kenyan authorities to close Dadaab and Kakuma Refugee camps within a short time frame comes at a time that these people need help,” KCCB members said in their two-page statement signed by their Chairman, Archbishop Philip Anyolo.

They added, “This is a time to give protection and embrace the most vulnerable in our society. As a God-fearing Nation, we should obey God's commands to love our neighbors. This is the reason why as Kenyans, we should count it a privilege to show that love by hosting the refugees and asylum seekers across the globe.”

Rather than close the camps, Catholic Bishops in Kenya said they want the Uhuru Kenyatta-led government “to shelve this unfortunate idea and instead increase security and any other support to the refugees as well as to the bodies that work directly with them in ensuring they receive their basic needs.”

More in Africa

“The Government should reconsider their position and treat all refugees with care and concern especially during this period of COVID-19 pandemic when humanity is faced with serious economic and psychological challenges. Let us be our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers,” the Bishops recommended in their April 9 statement.

Kenya’s Cabinet Secretary of Interior and Coordination of National Government, Dr. Fred Matiang’i on March 24 announced the government’s intention to close the two camps and issued a two weeks “ultimatum” to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to present a plan for the closure.

“UNHCR is concerned about the impact this decision would have on the protection of refugees in Kenya, including in the context of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic,” the leadership of the refugee agency said March 24 in response to the planned closure of the camp and pledged to dialogue with relevant authorities in Kenya.

On April 8, Kenya’s High Court temporarily blocked the closure of the two camps for a period of 30 days, following a petition filed by a local politician challenging the government’s move.

Located in Kenya’s Lodwar Diocese, 29-year-old Kakuma Refugee Camp is the largest of its kind in the world, hosting an estimated 200,000 people, majority of them having fled the civil war in the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan.


Dadaab Camp that was established in 1991, on the other hand, is the third largest refugee settlement in the world with an estimated 218,873 refugees and asylum seekers, according to UNHCR statistics.

Majority of the inhabitants of the camp, located in the territory of Kenya's Garissa Diocese, are refugees who have fled the civil war in neighboring Somalia.

In 2016, Kenya’s government had attempted to close the Dadaab Camp, citing security concerns owing to its proximity to conflict-ridden Somalia. A decision by the Kenyan High Court blocked the move, which it termed unconstitutional.

In the April 14 statement, JRS’ officials in Kenya who form part of the Executive Board of KCCB’s Commission for Refugees, Migrants and Seafarers commit to continue supporting the Government of Kenya and all its stakeholders “by providing basic services and support to refugees and host communities in Nairobi and in Kakuma refugee camp.”

“At this challenging time, we continue to ensure access to education for children with disabilities, higher education for refugees, protection to women survivors of Sexual and Gender-based Violence (SGBV) and children at risk, life-skills training, livelihoods, and mental health and psychosocial support, by accompanying, serving and advocating for the cause of refugees,” they add.

(Story continues below)