The United Nations says it will not close Somali refugee camps in Kenya, despite an order from a government minister for the camps to shut down.
Kenya hosts nearly 500,000 Somalis who have fled their country over the past 20 years, most of whom live in the sprawling Dadaab camps near the border.
On Sunday, Kenyan Internal Security Minister Joseph Lenku said the camps must close and refugees must prepare to return to Somalia.
Kitty McKinsey, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, said in an interview with VOA the agency is not taking Lenku's words as a command.
"We do not believe that there is any order for the refugee camps in Kenya to be closed," she said. "The Kenyan government and the Kenyan people have been very generous to the refugees over the years, and we certainly have every reason to expect that will continue to be the case."
Earlier this month, the agency and the governments of Kenya and Somalia signed an agreement to support Somali refugees who return home voluntarily.
McKinsey emphasized that the agreement did not call for the refugee camps to be shut down.
"There are no plans to close the refugee camp," she said. "Certainly the agreement that was signed among UNHCR, the govts of Kenya and Somalia does not call for the closing of the camps. There's not going to be a closure any time soon, nobody is talking about closing the camps any time soon."
A number of Somali refugees have returned home in recent months as fighting has eased in Somalia and the economy improves.
But many refugees remain in Kenya, where some have lived since the outbreak of Somalia's civil war in the early 1990s.
According to the U.N. refugee agency, the five Dadaab camps are home to 388,000 Somali refugees. It says another 54,000 live in the Kakuma camp in northwest Kenya, with another 32,000 living in the capital, Nairobi.