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Kenya Delays Closing World's Largest Refugee Camp For 6 Months

Parts of Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp, are seen from a helicopter in 2012 in northern Kenya.
Ben Curtis
Parts of Dadaab, the world's largest refugee camp, are seen from a helicopter in 2012 in northern Kenya.

Kenya says it is postponing the closure of the world's largest refugee camp for six months following a request from the United Nations. Earlier this year, Kenyan officials vowed to close the sprawling camp-city at the end of this month due to security concerns.

Rights groups are deeply concerned about what a closure will mean for the hundreds of thousands of refugees that live there, the vast majority of whom fled violence in neighboring Somalia. The camp was established more than two decades ago and houses some of the world's most vulnerable people.

"Kenya's interior minister, Gen. Joseph Nkaissery, says the repatriation of Somali refugees from sprawling Dadaab camp will take place in a humane safe and dignified manner and that the six-month suspension is in response to a U.N. refugee agency request," as NPR's Ofeibea Quist-Arcton reports.

The announcement comes just a day after the release of an Amnesty International report accusing the government of "forcing residents to leave for Somalia, where refugees risked being killed or forcibly recruited into the al-Shabab [militant] group," Ofeibea adds.

Nkaissery specifically denied those accusations, according to The Associated Press. He said that "the ongoing voluntary repatriation will continue uninterrupted," Reuters adds.

The camp housed some 350,000 people at the beginning of this year, according to Reuters, though tens of thousands are believed to have already left the camp.

The Kenyan government says it is closing the camp because of security fears associated with al-Shabab, which has carried out deadly attacks inside Kenya. But according to Human Rights Watch, Kenyan officials "have not provided credible evidence linking Somali refugees to any terrorist attacks in Kenya."

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Merrit Kennedy is a reporter for NPR's News Desk. She covers a broad range of issues, from the latest developments out of the Middle East to science research news.