Last week Kenya’s High Court upheld refugee rights rooted in regional and international law and declared null and void the government's bid to close Dadaab, the largest refugee camp in the world.
At a time when the number of refugees and displaced people has reached the highest levels ever recorded in history, and many governments seem to be turning their backs to people fleeing conflict and disaster, this decision of the Kenyan High Court is all the more an act of courage, bravery and humanity; it is also a victory for the people of Dadaab and all refugees – although a temporary one, since the Government of Kenya may appeal against the ruling.
However, we need to look beyond Dadaab at the root causes of displacement in the East Africa region which is currently home to a number of humanitarian crisis: 3 million South Sudanese have been forced to leave their homes by war and many are refugees in Kenya; 15 million people in Somalia and Ethiopia are suffering through one of the most devastating droughts in recent years; and over 300,000 Burundians have had to flee their country because of violence and persecution.
In Kenya, we can't afford to ignore these crises or shy away from them - nor can the international community. The only realistic approach to closing Dadaab and other refugee camps is to tackle the root causes of the crises that force people to flee their homes, and to support refugees so that they can achieve the safe, dignified and healthy future that they are prepared, quite literally, to die for.
Kenya is geographically placed right at the centre of these crises. As the biggest economic and political player in the region, it has a responsibility, as well as an opportunity for leadership, in the development of 21st century responses for refugees. Refugees residing in Dadaab camp and other host communities around the world often desire nothing more than to return home, and they should be seen as partners in the development of innovative plans affecting their futures.
For decades the government and people of Kenya have provided refuge to hundreds of thousands of people. They should be proud of their generosity and hospitality. And now, as unprecedented numbers of people continue to run from conflict, disasters, and persecution amid a rising tide of backlash against them, it is critical that traditional stalwarts of refugee rights, including Kenya, maintain policies that protect them.
The High Court’s land mark decision provides an opportunity to renew this commitment.
This entry posted by Serena Tremonti, Oxfam Media Officer, on 17 February 2017.