The Somali refugee crisis has turned into a high stakes game of money and global politics as the world responds to Kenya’s threat to expel 600,000 displaced people.
On Friday, following a high-level meeting between Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta and a United Nations Security Council delegation, a lull in the storm appeared with the announcement that Kenya was “open for discussion” on the issue.
Abdelatif Aboulata, the chairman of the United Nations Security Council Counter-Terrorism Committee, who is also Egypt’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations, and Mathew Rycroft, the United Kingdom’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations told journalists that Kenya’s position at the meeting was that the refugee problem required shared responsibility among partner organisations.
“Mr Kenyatta was clear on wanting partnership over the refugee matter and came out as open for further discussions over it. He voiced his frustrations over the refugee question, but from our conclusion, there’s a definite opening for talks over the issue. We asked Kenya not to close the camp yet,” Mr Aboulata said.
But, despite denials by Kenyan officials that the threat was about money, it emerged that President Kenyatta did draw parallels between the Somalia refugee crisis and the Syrian one where the European Union entered a deal with Turkey, which has seen the latter receive more than $4.3 billion in aid to keep Syrian refugees. On the other hand, the EU has cut funding for the African Mission is Somalia (Amisom).
“It is true that we discussed the financing question with Kenya as a concern raised together with our Somalia partners. The position of EU is that other organisations, including Africa Union (AU), should shoulder some burden of military spending under Amisom,” Mr Rycroft said, adding that President Kenyatta was clear that the decision to close Dadaab refugee camp was not driven by finance.
Lack of commitment
Organisations opposed to Kenya’s decision to close Dadaab refugee camp in Garissa County, claim that dwindling funding aid, geopolitics and lack of commitment by both the Somalia government and the UN refugee agency (UN High Commissioner for Refugees) are some of the reasons for the threat.
The EastAfrican was also informed that Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohammed met with senior European Union officials in charge of refugee affairs in Brussels mid-week over the issue, preceding a Friday Nairobi visit by top United Nations Security Council officials.
Early this month, on the sidelines of the 4th Ministerial Retreat of the Executive Council of African Union in Nairobi, CS Mohammed complained that Kenya had received little or no financial support as it continued shouldering the refugee burden.
Kenya’s Foreign Affairs Principal Secretary Monica Juma said that the Security Council was in the region to discuss the Amisom mandate renewal but they will also discuss the refugee repatriation question. Midweek, United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon spoke with President Kenyatta, in the first direct approach from the UN boss over the intended closure of the refugee camp.
“The Secretary-General urged President Kenyatta to use the Tripartite Agreement, signed in November 2013 with the Federal Government of Somalia and UNHCR, as a basis for the voluntary return of Somali refugees in safety and dignity,” a statement from Mr Ban’s spokesman said.
The EastAfrican has learnt that the United Nations is pushing for a high-level bilateral review on the refugee situation in Kenya, which is to be jointly conducted by the government of Kenya and UNHCR that will see the United Nations deputy secretary general in charge of refugees Jan Eliasson and High Commissioner on Refugees Filippo Grandi travel to Nairobi next week and have a series of meetings jointly with President Kenyatta and Somalia’s President Hassan Sheikh Mohamoud to find a solution.
In November 2013, Kenya formed a committee with UNHCR and Somalia where an agreement was signed. However, Kenya feels that the tripartite agreements talks collapsed as the two partners (Somalia and UNHCR) are “no longer useful” in this process anymore.
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In an interview with The EastAfrican, Interior principal secretary Dr Karanja Kibicho said that the tripartite talks collapsed because Kenya felt it was a money question every time meetings were called.
“We have made it clear to them that these security threats we are talking about cannot be compensated by money. We have failed to have the security discussion with these partners since signing of these agreements three years ago. Their interest is for us to keep the refugees as they keep the aid taps open. The questions they should be asked is what they have done so far to ensure that our concerns over existence of terrorist cells in the camps are routed out,” Dr Kibicho said.
It is understood that Kenya has on several occasions voiced its frustrations with the constant paper work and meetings over the repatriations yet the tripartite agreement, which expires in November had already laid ground for the repatriation.
“We haven’t moved an inch with these tripartite talks. Our eyes are on repatriations rather than hosting meetings, conferences, field visits and feasibility studies as has been the norm in this agreement. We have done enough of these. Can we now move people from the camps?” Mr Kibicho asked.
Interestingly, in a commentary in a UK newspaper, The Independent, Mr Kibicho said that there has also been a fall-off in the voluntary international funding for the camps in Kenya, in favour of raising budgets in the northern hemisphere for refugees headed to the West, in reference to the March European Union deal with Turkey that will see the latter receive more than $4.24 billion in funding to retain the Syrian refugees.
“International obligations in Africa should not be done on the cheap; the world continues to learn the ruinous effect of these persistent double standards,” Mr Kibicho said in the commentary.
Kenya’s Interior Cabinet Secretary Joseph Nkaissery last week also dragged the EU-Turkey deal into the foray questioning why Kenya wasn’t allowed to repatriate refugees yet rich, prosperous and democratic countries were turning away refugees from Syria, one of the worst war zones since World War Two.
“This could have been a way of Kenya expressing its displeasure with EU’s position on various issues including advancing $51.76 million in project grants to Mali, a migrant transit country, yet Kenya is receiving little support while it plays hosts to the world’s largest refugee camp while at the same time cutting back Amisom’s funding by 20 per cent because of competing needs,” The EastAfrican was told.
Dr Kibicho however denies that prospects of increased funding was the motivating factor in the decision, instead saying that the insecurity and Al Shabaab terror cells within these camps was the main reason.