Kenyan judge quashes ‘illegal’ order to close refugee camp

Justice John Mativa

A Kenyan court has ruled against President Uhuru Kenyatta’s government over its orders to close the world’s largest refugee camp and send more than 200,000 people back to war-torn Somalia.

Judge John Mativo ruled that Kenya’s internal security minister had abused his power by ordering the closure of Dadaab refugee camp in eastern Kenya,

The minister and other officials had “acted in excess and in abuse of their power, in violation of the rule of law and in contravention of their oaths of office,” Mativo said.

The judge said the decision to close the refugee camp is discriminatory and goes against the Kenyan constitution as well as international treaties that protect refugees against being returned to a conflict zone.

“The government’s decision specifically targeting Somali refugees is act of group persecution, illegal, discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional,” he said.

Kenya has said the closure of Dadaab is necessary because the sprawling camp is a recruitment ground for al-Shabab, Somalia’s Islamic extremist rebels, and a base for the group to launch attacks on Kenya.

Karanja Kibicho, the Kenyan minister for national security, claimed last year that the Westgate terrorist attack was “planned and executed from Dadaab,” adding, “The Al Shabaab terrorist group has been able to take advantage of the camps’ overcrowded and under-resourced conditions, and most importantly the limits to policing United Nations run sites, to operate with an alarming degree of freedom.”

But Kenyan officials have not provided conclusive proof that Dadaab camp is a staging ground for extremist attacks. Some Kenyan officials have said the Westgate attackers came from Dadaab but investigators later said they came from a different refugee camp, Kakuma, which is mostly populated by South Sudanese refugees in northern Kenya.

The announcement of Dadaab’s closure came a year before the Kenya general elections.