Terrifying, shocking, a rejection of humanity – these are just some of the words used by residents of Kenya’s two largest refugee camps to describe their fear and despondency over the news that the government is trying to have the settlements shut down imminently.
On March 24, Kenyan Interior Minister Fred Matiang’i declared the United Nations’ refugee agency (UNHCR) had two weeks to come up with a plan for closing the Dadaab and Kakuma camps, which between them host some 410,000 people from more than a dozen countries, including Somalis, South Sudanese, Ethiopians, Tanzanians, Ugandans and Burundians.
Otherwise, authorities warned, they would force refugees to travel to the border with Somalia. In a tweet, Kenya’s interior ministry called this an “ultimatum” and said there was no room for further negotiations.
“I don’t know if the [Kenyan] government have sat down and considered the lives of people living in the camp or they just wake up and make those decisions,” said Austin Baboya, a South Sudanese based in Kakuma. “Right now [across] the entire camp, the information has caused a panic and very many people have lost hope,” added Baboya, who, at 26, has not known any other home than a refugee camp.