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Kenya denies abuse of refugees in push to close Somali camp

Nairobi: Kenya reaffirmed on Thursday its plan to close the world’s largest refugee camp by November, rejecting allegations by Human Rights Watch (HRW) that it is harassing and intimidating Somali refugees to return home when it is not safe to do so.
The rights group said Kenya is not giving the refugees a real choice between being repatriated or staying, and that the United Nation’s refugee agency, UNHCR, is not giving refugees accurate information about the risks they face in Somalia. “Our timeline is November 30th for closure of the camp,” Karanja Kibicho, principal secretary for Kenya’s interior ministry, told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We are trying to restore sanity in matters of refugee affairs. We are a sovereign country that is trying to address a security concern and we are as humane as possible.” A spokesman for UNHCR in Kenya said the agency would have to study HRW’s report before responding. Kenya announced in May that it would close Dadaab, home to more than 300,000 mostly Somali refugees, by November, following deadly attacks on Kenyan soil by Somali Islamist group al Shabaab. The government says al Shabaab has used the camp as a recruiting ground for its attacks.
Kenya softened its stance in June, following an outcry from rights groups who said much of Somalia was not yet safe for return, and agreed a goal of halving Dadaab’s population by the end of 2016. Somalia continues to face an Islamist insurgency and is struggling to rebuild after decades of conflict. Kibicho’s comments suggest the government is sticking to its original November deadline. There has been a surge in departures from Dadaab in recent months with more than 24,000 refugees returning to Somalia since December 2014, the United Nations said. Some are third generation residents of the camp, which was set up in 1991 to host Somalis fleeing civil war in the Horn of Africa country.

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