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Kenyan Court Keeps Refugee Camp Open

2017-2-9

The world’s largest refugee camp will remain open in Kenya.

Kenya’s high court announced the ruling Thursday. It said closing the Dadaab camp would violate the country’s constitution.

Rights groups sought legal action after the Kenyan government announced last May that it would close the camp. It said it would return home the almost 260,000 Somali refugees living there.

Locator map of Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.
Locator map of Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya.

The Somalis had fled fighting in their country, which borders Kenya.

Kenyan high court justice John Mativo said the government’s orders to close the camp were discriminatory and amounted to collective punishment.

Kenya had argued that security threats made it necessary to close the camp.

The government also said it would close the Department of Refugee Affairs. The High Court also rejected that plan.

A Ministry of the Interior official, Mwenda Njoka, said the Kenyan government will appeal the ruling because the reason for closing the camp remains.

“The main reason was security,” Njoka said. “The fact that the camps have lost their humanitarian character and they became places where terrorists would come, al-Shabab and their sympathizers would go and plan their attacks on Kenya. So that has not changed.”

Njoka said that Somalia “has also stabilized.” A new president, Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed, took office in Somalia on Wednesday.

Njoka also said that the Kenyan government would obey the court’s ruling if it loses on appeal. “We cannot defy a court order,” he said.

The rights group Amnesty International praised the court’s decision. But the group’s deputy regional director Michelle Kagari also said that Kenya has carried “a disproportionate burden” when it comes to housing refugees. She called on western countries to take a fair share of refugees.

The Norwegian Refugee Council, Doctors Without Borders and Human Rights Watch also released statements praising the ruling.

The United Nations says almost 34,000 refugees have returned to Somalia since Kenya announced it would close the Dadaab camp.

I’m Anne Ball.

Jill Craig reported this story for VOA from Nairobi, Kenya. Anne Ball adapted it for Learning English. Caty Weaver was the editor.

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Words in This Story

discriminatory – adj. not fair : unfairly treating a person or group of people differently from other people or groups of people

character – n. the way someone thinks, feels, and behaves : someone's personality

stabilize – v. to become stable or to make (something) stable

disproportionate – adj. having or showing a difference that is not fair, reasonable, or expected

burden – n. someone or something that is very difficult to accept, do, or deal with