Migration Policy Institute
An Uncertain Future for Somali Refugees in Dadaab
Laetitia Bader, Researcher, Africa Division, Human Rights Watch
Bill Frelick, Director, Refugee Program, Human Rights Watch
Kathleen Newland, Senior Fellow, MPI
The Dadaab refugee camp in Kenya houses an estimated 263,000 Somali refugees, making it one of the world's largest refugee camps. For more than 20 years, it has been home to generations of Somalis who have fled conflict. However, in 2016, the Kenyan government closed its Department of Refugee Affairs and announced its intention to close Dadaab camp, or at the very least drastically reduce the number of refugees in the camp by the end of the year.
Based on a 2013 agreement with Somalia and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) on the “voluntary repatriation" of Somali refugees, the Kenyan government has been encouraging Somalis in the camp to volunteer to return in exchange for cash assistance. What these refugees will find on return to Somalia, however, is questionable, as conditions there do not appear stable or conducive to large-scale return. In fact, a number of refugees who have returned to Somalia are now seeking refuge again in Kenya, but facing an additional challenge as the Kenyan government is no longer automatically granting refugee status to Somali asylum seekers. For those Somalis who remain in the camp and do not take the volunteer repatriation package, the future is no less uncertain—will they be forced to return without assistance if the camp closes, and if they do manage to remain in Kenya, will they be left without food assistance and subject to arrest for illegal presence?
Back from a recent trip to the region, Human Rights Watch researchers have released a report exploring the situation of refugees in Dadaab. In this discussion they share their findings from on-the-ground interviews and observations, along with their recommendations for the Kenyan government and international community.