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Aid agencies decry Kenya plan to close refugee camps

AFP , Tuesday 10 May 2016
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A group of charities working in the world's largest refugee camp in Kenya added their voices Tuesday to those calling on Nairobi to reconsider a decision to stop hosting Somali refugees.

The 11 charities described as "unfortunate" the Kenyan government's decision announced last week to close Dadaab and Kakuma camps -- home to around 600,000 refugees, including nearly 350,000 in Dadaab.

"The recent announcement will have far reaching implications for the thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who have called Kenya a place of refuge," the aid agencies said.

On Friday Kenya's interior ministry said it would shut the camps and refuse new refugee arrivals, citing "national security interests".

Government and security officials regularly assert that Islamic militants from the Shebab group hide, thrive and recruit among Somali refugees, claims denied by independent observers and by refugees themselves who point out many of them have fled Shebab's depredations.

The 11 non-governmental organisations (NGOs), which together provide basic services including healthcare and clean water in the two camps, acknowledged Kenya's burden in hosting refugees from around the region but urged the government not to implement its new plan.

The NGOs -- including the International Rescue Committee, Oxfam, Save the Children and the Norwegian Refugee Council -- warned that closing the camps "violates the general principle of voluntary repatriation" and puts the refugees at risk, many of them women and children.

The charities urged Kenya to, "reconsider its intention to close refugee camps."

Despite fears raised by aid agencies, human rights groups and the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR), Kenya has insisted it will go ahead with the plan although no timeline has been given.

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