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The Kenyan government’s decision to close down two large refugee camps, including the world’s biggest at Dadaab, is likely to put thousands of innocent lives at risk, said Amnesty International today.

“This reckless decision by the Kenyan government is an abdication of its duty to protect the vulnerable and will put thousands of lives at risk,” said Muthoni Wanyeki, Amnesty International’s Regional Director for East Africa, the Horn and the Great Lakes.

“It could lead to the involuntary return of thousands of refugees to Somalia and other countries of origin, where their lives may still be in danger. This would be in violation of Kenya’s obligations under international law.”

In a statement, the Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Interior and Coordination of National Government, Dr Karanja Kibicho, said the decision to close Dadaab and Kakuma camps was due to “immense security challenges such as the threat of Al-Shabaab.”

He said Kenya had hosted more than 600,000 refugees for over a quarter of a century and had shouldered a “very heavy economic, security and environmental burden.”

He also asked for the support of the international community to expedite the process.

“While it is true that resettlement to third countries has been slow, Kenya should itself consider permanent solutions towards the full integration of refugees, some of whose stay in Kenya is now over generations,” said Muthoni Wanyeki. “Forced return to situations of persecution or conflict is not an option.”