By S. Hassan and Aljazeera
Kenya has ordered all refugees living in urban areas to return to their camps in a bid to end attacks by armed groups carried out in retaliation for Kenya’s intervention in neighbouring Somalia.
“Any refugee found flouting this directive will be dealt with in accordance with the law,” Interior Minister Joseph Ole Lenku said in a statement.
Ole Lenku said that Kenya has been tolerant and its hospitality has been abused and it was now time to act.
Lenku issued the order citing “emergency security challenges” in Kenyan towns, but the move was criticized by rights groups which have discouraged similar actions in the past.
Until now, refugees who could support themselves or were in need of specialized education or medical care had been allowed to live in urban areas.
Lenku said “all refugees residing outside the designated refugee camps of Kakuma and Dadaab are hereby directed to return to their respective camps with immediate effect.”
The refugees are now required to be housed at Dadaab, close to the Somali border, and at Kakuma, near Kenya’s frontier with South Sudan.
Dadaab is already home to close to a million refugees and pushing more to the camps will only make matters worse there.
There are a huge chunk of refugees who live in urban areas who have legal papers. This means it will be daunting task for the government to implement this directive.
A shoot to kill order has also been issued on terrorism suspects.
Police carried out a swoop in Nairobi that saw two suspects killed and close to 500 arrested in overnight raids in Eastleigh. Some of those in custody are refugees with no documentation.
Kenyan security officials believe armed groups have used the refugee camps as bases to prepare attacks and then mingled with residents in urban areas to carry them out.
Al-Shabaab and its sympathisers have carried out several attacks in Kenya, including at the Westgate shopping male in Nairobi last year in which at least 67 people were killed.
On Sunday, gunmen killed six people in a church in Likoni, Mombasa. Last week, police said they had arrested two men found to have two large bombs in a car, which they intended to use in Mombasa.
Mohamed Ali Hassan, president of the Somali-American Peace Council, told Al Jazeera that there were many Somalis in Kenya who were providing for themselves and, through their business activities, boosting the Kenyan economy.
“This would be a very bad decision for them. We can understand the Kenyan government’s concern of security but if someone wants to kill themselves in order to kill other people there’s really little you can do. And this won’t help.”
In January last year, a similar move by the government to relocate an estimated 100,000 urban Somali refugees brought condemnation from the New York-based rights group Human Rights Watch.
In November 2012, prior to a plan to restrict Somali refugees to camps, street battles erupted between Kenyans and ethnic Somalis in Eastleigh, a part of Nairobi commonly dubbed “Little Mogadishu” because of its large Somali population, after a bomb on a minibus killed seven people in the area.
Al-Shabab has threatened to carry out further attacks if Kenyan troops do not withdraw from Somalia where they are battling the insurgents as part of an African Union peacekeeping force.
Somalia’s ambassador to Kenya Mohamed Ali (Americo) appealed to Somalis to remain calm and give his government time to take up the issue with their Kenyan counter parts.