Ugandan refugee Dennis Wasswa sits by the door of a shelter at the Kakuma refugee camp, in Turkana county, northwest of Nairobi, Kenya, on Feb 22, 2020. [Photo/Agencies]

Kenya and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees have agreed on a repatriation roadmap for refugees in the Kakuma and Dadaab camps, as the East African country plans to close the two camps by June 30, 2022.

The roadmap includes provisions for voluntary safe return of refugees to their home nations, departures to third countries under various arrangements and alternative stay options in Kenya for refugees from the East African Community member states.

The announcement by the interior ministry follows a Thursday meeting between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Filippo Grandi, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, to discuss issues surrounding refugees and asylum seekers in the region, as well as receive a briefing on the status of Kakuma and Dadaab refugee camps housing 433,765 refugees.

A joint statement by the agency and the Kenyan government said a joint team comprised of officials from the government and the UN agency will be formed to finalize and implement a roadmap on the next steps toward a humane management of refugees in both camps.

“We are serious about completing the repatriation program, which we started in 2016, in full view of our international obligations and our domestic responsibility. We therefore reiterate our earlier position to close both Dadaab and Kakuma camps by June 30, 2022,” said Fred Matiang’i, the cabinet secretary for interior and coordination of national government.

Raychelle Omamo, cabinet secretary for foreign affairs, said closure of the camps must be seen as an aspiration.

“We are not chasing people away, but a camp is not a permanent thing. It is a place of limbo. No one should live in a place of uncertainty or indignity generation after generation. What we are now working on is how to achieve this cooperatively, which is in line with the Global Compact on Refugees,” she said.

Grandi welcomed the government’s continued commitment to the Global Compact on Refugees.

“I believe the government and people of Kenya will continue to show their generous hospitality towards refugees as they have done for nearly three decades, while we carry on discussions on a strategy to find the most durable, appropriate and rights-based solutions for refugees and asylum-seekers residing in the refugee camps in Dadaab and Kakuma,” he said.

On March 22, Kenya issued a 14-day ultimatum to the UN refugee agency to have a roadmap on definite closure of the two camps, saying there was no room for further negotiation.

Since 2016, Kenya has been expressing its intention to close the camps over security concerns. The high court blocked the move, saying it was unconstitutional.

Of key concern has been the Dadaab refugee camp, located near the border with Somalia which hosts mostly refugees from that country.

The camp has been suspected to be a recruiting ground for the armed Al-Shabaab militia group that has for years been responsible for terror attacks in the capital Nairobi, north eastern part of Kenya and coastal regions.

The capacity of Dadaab camp, established in 1991, is also overstretched. Initially designed to accommodate 90,000 refugees, the camp now holds over 200,000.

Kakuma camp, located on the northwestern part of Kenya and established in 1992, hosts refugees from South Sudan, Burundi, Rwanda and Uganda.