Kenya has extended the deadline for the closure of the Dadaab refugee camp, which houses more than 260,000 Somalis, by six months.
Joseph Nkaissery, Interior Minister, said on Wednesday in Nairobi that the volatile security situation in Somalia had made it difficult for Kenya to meet the earlier deadline of November.
He said in addition to it, the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) chief, Filippo Grandi, had also requested Kenya to give more time for the repatriation of the Somali refugees in Dadaab, citing a delicate situation in Somalia and other factors.
“Kenya is committed to upholding international law in the repatriation process. $10 million will be used in the repatriation,’’ he said.
Mr. Nkaissery, however, said the ongoing voluntary repatriation will continue uninterrupted.
Dadaab, the world’s largest refugee camp, was set up over 20 years ago to house Somalis fleeing civil conflict.
Kenya announced in May that it would close Dadaab and repatriate all the Somalis living in it by November this year, citing security concerns.
Repatriation has since been accelerated.
Mr. Nkaissery said the government was working together with the UNHCR and the Somali government to conduct a programme to help facilitate smooth repatriation during the extended period.
The minister said official data indicated that 262,000 Somali refugees remain in the camp while 16,000 have been repatriated in the last six months.
Mr. Nkaissery said all the Somali refugees in Dadaab would be moved out in a humane manner.
He denied reports by some human rights groups and aid agencies that refugees were being forced back to Somalia.
He explained that some Somali refugees in Dadaab would be moved to third countries, while all non-Somali refugees would be relocated to other UNHCR camps.
“An environmental rehabilitation programme will be carried out in Dadaab after the camp is closed next year.
“An estimated 1.1 million people are internally displaced in Somalia due to some two decades of civil conflict,” he said.
The Kenyan government claims members of Somalia-based Islamist militant group Al-Shabaab hide in Dadaab.
Al-Shabaab has carried out a series of bloody attacks in Kenya in the past few years.