Kenya has extended the deadline to close Dadaab refugee camp by six months sparing the over 200,000 refugees still there.
Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery said yesterday the move followed a request by the UNHCR commissioner of refugees Filipo Grandi to extend the time for repatriation and closure of the camp.
He said the volatile security situation in Somalia and ongoing elections had made it difficult for Kenya and other partners to meet the deadline.
Kenya announced in June it planned to close the camp by end of November 2016.
"The government has accepted the request to extend the deadline for completion of repatriation of Somali refugees and eventual closure of Dadaab Refugee complex by six months," said Nkaissery.
He made the remarks in his Nairobi office while in the company of UNHCR special envoy on Somali Refugee situation Mohamed Affey, Somali ambassador to Kenya Mohamed Jamal and a taskforce that had been formed to oversee the repatriation process.
The CS said an elaborate repatriation programme will be issued from December and the process will be done in a humane, safe and dignified manner that insures none of the refugees is put in harm's way.
Nkaissery revealed 262,000 refugees still remain at the camp and so far 16,000 have been repatriated in the last six months.
He denied reports by agencies including Amnesty International that refugees are being forced back to Somalia. He termed them untrue.
"Kenya is committed to upholding international law in the repatriation process because we respect all international protocols that are signatory," he said.
In the six months, those involved in the repatriation will clear double registration where some refugees have irregularly registered ask Kenyans while some Kenyans have registered as refugees.
In January, all non-Somali refugees will be relocated from Dadaab to other UNHCR camps while in the third month of the period they will complete the relocation of Somali refugees to third countries.
In the fourth and fifth month the team plans to complete the repatriation of Somali refugees from Dadaab before the government starts the process of environmental rehabilitation programme in the area, said Nkaissery.
The CS said Kenya plans a special IGAD summit in Nairobi to discuss the crisis and other regional security issues.
Kenya has announced Sh1 billion would be used in the exercise and gazzetted a taskforce to oversee the repatriation process.
The CS said the decision to fast-track repatriation of refugees is anchored in an evolving understanding by virtually all regional and international bodies that Kenya faces a serious security threat.
The camps have become hosting grounds for Al Shabaab as well as centres of smuggling and contraband trade besides being enablers of illicit weapons proliferation, he said.
Nkaissery said in June large-scale terror attacks such as the Westgate Shopping Mall attack, Garissa University one, the Lamu attack were planned and deployed from Dadaab Refugee Camp by transnational terrorist groups.
As a result of insecurity created by existence of refugee camps, Kenya suffers the brunt of negative consequences such as travel advisories and poor humanitarian rating with obvious negative consequences to the country's economy.
Global humanitarian and human rights agencies have lashed out at Kenya for going against its international obligations in protecting the rights of refugees and displaced persons. They include Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Kenya National Human Rights Commission, Save the Children, World Vision, Oxfam, International Rescue Committee, Danish Refugee Council and the Lutheran World Federation. The agencies said the programme will have far-reaching implications on thousands of refugees and asylum seekers who have called Kenya a place of refuge.
But Nkaissery said the decision was arrived at in November 2013, when Kenya, Somalia and UNHCR signed a Tripartite Agreement setting grounds for repatriation of Somali refugees. The government announced on Friday it had disbanded the department of refugee affairs, the first step in closing Dadaab.