Why authorities plan to ‘revisit’ Dadaab refugee camp after dusitD2 attack

Inayat Kassam (left), evacuates victims of terror attack at dusitD2 Hotel last month. Authorities want to revive plans to close down Dadaab Refugee Camp to stem terrorism. [Edward Kiplimo,Standard]

Kenyan authorities are planning to revive the push to close down Dadaab Refugee Camp following last month’s dusitD2 complex terror attack in Nairobi in which 21 people were killed.

This is after it emerged one of the five men who attacked dusitD2 came to Kenya through Dagahaley Refugee Camp in the larger Dadaab.

Police investigations show the unidentified suspect posed as a refugee before he was facilitated and brought to Nairobi to execute the attack.

A police report seen by The Sunday Standard says the country finds itself in a precarious security situation mainly due to terror and criminal activities taking place in refugee camps in Garissa. 

Security agencies have arrested 12 terror suspects since the January terror attack. Interior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’i said the suspects were arrested on January 28 in Dadaab camp, and that one of them was found with two New Zealand passports bearing different names.

Authorities say on January 20, three suspected Al Shabaab militants armed with AK-47 rifles and several rounds of ammunition were arrested in Hagadera Refugee Camp in Dadaab. 

On January 24 at Dagahaley refugee camp, officers gunned down a suspect who refused to surrender and recovered an AK-47 rifle, five magazines and 26 bullets. 

And on January 20, eight hooded gunmen armed with AK-47 rifles attempted to attack a Chinese road construction site before escaping. A security source privy to the investigations on the incident has indicated that the attackers may have escaped into the camps. 

Officials believe these recent incidents point to the challenges arising from continued hosting of refugees in Dadaab complex. “The camps are also a conducive environment for arms smuggling from Somalia, human smuggling, documents facilitation and movement of contraband goods, which are exploited by terrorists to sustain their activities,” says the police report.

In 2016, the Government ordered the closure of Dadaab Refugee Camp. The then Interior Cabinet Secretary the late Joseph Nkaissery cited security, environmental degradation and economic concerns as the key factors that had informed the government decision to close down the camp.

But in a court ruling in February 2017, Justice John Mativo stopped the plans, saying that Nkaissery and Interior Principal Secretary Karanja Kibicho had acted beyond their powers. The court also declared the repatriation of refugees unconstitutional, describing it as discriminative.

The judge directed the Government to adopt mechanisms that would ensure the department dealing with refugee affairs is functioning properly.

Al-Shabaab operatives

Currently, there is an influx of aliens in the refugee camps who are allegedly running away from security operations in Somalia, some of whom could be Al Shabaab operatives disguised as asylum seekers, the report says.

But according to the police, the refugee camps are still used as logistical, transit, and facilitation centres for Al Shabaab operatives, thus aiding the group to easily gain access into the country.  

“We plan an operation there and we are calling on concerned parties to remove the refugees from there,” said another official aware of the plans.

Security agencies say they found out that the perpetrators of the Westgate Mall terror attack and the Garissa University attack had been facilitated from Dadaab Refugee Camp.

The camp has remained open, with more refugees coming in. “This raises the question as to whether the Government should proceed and close the camp as earlier planned to keep militants at bay,” said a source.

Dadaab comprises four camps: Dagahaley, Ifo, Ifo 2 and Hagadera. By the end of 2018, estimated population of Somali refugees and asylum seekers in the camp was 235,269. While a huge segment of this population arrived in the camps during the Somali civil war in the early 1990s, there was another large influx of refugees in the camps around 2011. Among them were people who were fleeing drought and famine in Somalia. The camp has since become a “thorn in the flesh” of Kenya due to insecurity in the form of terrorism, human trafficking and arms smuggling. 

Kenya and Somalia signed a tripartite agreement with the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNCHR) to provide a framework for the voluntary return of Somali refugees.

Figures indicate that a total of 80,144 refugees have been repatriated to Somalia on a voluntary basis since December 2014. However, there was decrease in voluntary returns to Somalia in 2018.

The ever burning question for the Kenyan populace is: Is there an end in sight for Dadaab camp given the rising number of criminal activities that have been traced to the camps by security agencies?

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Dagahaley Refugee CampDadaabInterior Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiang’iInayat KassamThe Sunday StandardAl-Shabaab operatives