NAIROBI/GENEVA—Calls by Kenyan officials to close a sprawling refugee camp in northeastern Kenya housing hundreds of thousands of people from Somalia will have dramatic and life-threatening consequences, the international medical humanitarian organization Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) warned today.
Current conditions in the Dadaab Refugee Camp do not allow for a safe and dignified return of the refugees to Somalia, and the Kenyan government and international community should increase aid and security for Somali refugees living within Kenya’s borders, MSF said. Officials are calling for the camp to be closed within three months and for its inhabitants to be forcibly returned to Somalia.
"Such a drastic measure in an impossibly short time frame would deprive generations of refugees of any choices for their future," said Charles Gaudry, MSF’s head of mission in Kenya. "This is a move that would punish hundreds of thousands of people, forcing them to return to a country where safety and medical care is far from guaranteed, and in some places is nonexistent."
The refugee camp, currently home to some 350,000 people, is the largest in the world. For more than 20 years, it has been home to generations of Somalis who have fled a country embroiled in conflict. MSF operates a 100-bed hospital and four health posts in Dagahaley camp, one of the five camps that make up the Dadaab camp complex.
Humanitarian assistance in the camps has been reduced over recent years due to increasing insecurity and a decrease in funding received by many aid organizations. Despite this, Dadaab still offers a safer refuge than Somalia.
"Somalia is no place to return to," said Abdul Hussein, a refugee who spoke with MSF in late March. "The same problem that brought us to Dadaab still exists there. People have nowhere to live. They have nothing."
"Forcibly returning refugees to a war-torn country is not a solution," Gaudry said. "Instead, the government of Kenya and the international community must work together to help and protect Somali refugees who have sought shelter in Kenya."
MSF has been working in Dadaab for 20 years and is currently the only provider of medical care in Dagahaley camp. In 2014, MSF provided 180,000 outpatient consultations, admitted 12,000 people as inpatients, provided 12,000 antenatal consultations, and delivered 3,240 babies in Dagahaley camp. In the aftermath of the Garissa University attacks on April 2, MSF deployed a team from Dadaab to support Garissa hospital in treating the wounded, and provided medical assistance at Garissa airport, where hundreds of students had been evacuated.