This photo taken on April 28, 2015, shows Somali refugees at a market in Dadaab refugee camp, north of the Kenyan capital Nairobi. (Photo by AFP)
The Kenyan government has agreed to international calls to delay closure of a camp that houses Somali refugees northeast of the country.
“The government has accepted the request to extend the deadline for the completion of repatriation of Somali refugees, and this is essential to the closure of the Dadaab refugee complex, by six months,” Interior Minister Joseph Ole Nkaissery said on Wednesday.
The government had earlier set November as the deadline for shutting down the camp, a sprawling facility north of the capital Nairobi, which the government says is being increasingly used by militants from neighboring Somalia
to launch attacks on Kenyan civilians and security forces.
Officials have yet to determine a new timetable for the closure of the camp, but Nkaissery said the ongoing voluntary repatriation would continue uninterrupted.
Officials said a comprehensive repatriation program at Dadaab would be rolled out next month.
Other sources admitted that international pressure on Nairobi had made it increasingly difficult to meet the November target.
Rights campaigners say the decision could hurt Somalis fleeing violence and poverty.
Amnesty International has put the closure on par with forcible repatriations. Kenya
has dismissed the allegation.
The United Nations estimates that about 350,000 refugees are living in Dadaab. The Kenyan authorities put the figure at 250,000. The camp has housed more than half a million people over the past years. It has been home to Somali refugees since the outbreak of civil war in 1991.
Decades of conflict in Somalia have made it difficult for a Western-backed government to establish order across the country and militants are still capable of launching high-profile attacks.
Al-Shabab militant group has carried out several major attacks in Kenya, prompting Nairobi to deploy thousands of troops to the war-torn country to contain the insurgency.