Kenyan High Court Grants Somali Refugees Reprieve

The Kenyan High Court blocked plans to close the Dadaab Refugee Camp this month (Wikimedia Commons).

The Kenyan High Court blocked plans to close the Dadaab Refugee Camp this month (Wikimedia Commons).

The Kenyan High Court deemed the proposed closure of Dadaab refugee camps in Kenya’s Northeastern Province unconstitutional on February 9, relieving the hundreds of thousands of Somalis that call the camps home from the perils of forced repatriation.

Kenyan authorities have been threatening to close the refugee camps for years. They vowed to make good on their promises by the end of November 2016, citing security concerns about al-Shabaab militants operating out of the camps. Outrage from the international community subsequently persuaded Kenyan officials to delay the closure by six months on humanitarian grounds, with the High Court rulingthat “specifically targeting Somali refugees is an act of group persecution, illegal, discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional” and ordering the government to reinstate the Department for Refugee Affairs.

The ruling, written by Justice John Mativo, further notes that the order did not align with “international treaties.”

The order will affect over 200,000 refugees from Somalia (95.1 percent of the camp’s population) whose futures remain uncertain. Early reports show that some refugees already returned to Somalia, fearing that they would be repatriated. It is unknown whether the government, which invests enormous power in the executive branch and routinely violates the rights of Somali refugees, will follow the order. For now, the rule of law prevails, granting Somali refugees some reprieve. Nevertheless, the ruling is a sharp reminder of the growing pressure to find durable solutions for the Somali refugee situation.

Potential solutions include integration of Somalis into local communities or relaxation of strict laws that deny Dadaab residents employment outside the camps. Another option may be the expansion of settlement opportunities for Somali refugees, but a recent policy change in the United States that resettled 9,000 Somalis last year alone could threaten that possibility.

Kenya’s government has said that it will “appeal against the ruling on security grounds.” However, the Court’s obstruction of Dadaab’s closure has been called “historic” by Muthoni Wanyeki at Amnesty International, who noted the ruling’s effect on “more than a quarter of a million refugees who were at risk of being forcefully returned to Somalia, where they would have been at serious risk of human rights abuses.”