Court blocks bid to close world's largest refugee camp

The process to close the camp would be completed in November but the delay and decision from court will now keep the camp open.

Kenya's High Court on Thursday overturned a government order to close the world's biggest refugee camp, home to more than 300,000 Somali refugees, including some who have lived there more than 20 years.

The judge, John Mativo, said on Thursday that Kenya's internal security minister had abused his power by ordering the closure in May of Dadaab refugee camp, near the border with Somalia.

In his ruling, Justice JM Mativo said the government's orders were discriminatory and amounted to collective.

"The decision is a stinging defeat for the government of Uhuru Kenyatta, which had sent buses and airplanes to begin returning refugees to Somalia", NPR's Eyder Peralta reports from Nairobi.

The judge directed the government to adopt mechanisms that would ensure the department of refugees is functioning properly.

"This ruling reaffirms Kenya's constitutional and global legal obligation to protect people who seek safety from harm and persecution", Wanyeki wrote. That means states must not return a refugee to "the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion".

Since sending troops into neighbouring Somalia in 2011, Kenya has come under repeated attack from Shabaab, East Africa's long-time branch of Al-Qaeda.

More than 250,000 refugees are housed in the complex in Dadaab, eastern Kenya.

"The main reason was security", Njoka said.

Last year, Human Rights Watch called the repatriation of Somalis from Dadaab a violation of global refugee standards.

The ruling by the High Court ensures that procedures are in place to stop authorities from forcing refugees to leave under duress.

Notably, Somalia is undergoing huge changes, especially with the election of the country's new president.

The court's action was welcomed by rights groups.

The government originally wanted to shut down Dadaab last November, but delayed the closure after worldwide pressure to give residents more time to find new homes.

  • Eleanor Harrison