NAIROBI, KENYA - Two camps opened to host those who fled the 2011 famine in Somalia have been closed and handed to the Kenyan government.
Kenya said the action was part of its effort to close Dadaab, the huge camp complex that has hosted refugees for nearly three decades.
The U.N. refugee agency UNHCR turned the Kambios and Ifo II camps over to Kenyan control on Friday.
As for the refugees who lived in the camps, some have gone back to Somalia, and some have been resettled in three other camps: Hagardera, Dagahley and Ifo.
More than 80,000 Somalis have been repatriated in the past five years despite criticism from rights groups that said they were being forced to return.
Kenya's principal secretary of immigration, Gordon Kihalangwa, said the Dadaab camp presented security challenges to Kenya and had lost its status as a place of refuge.
"We still have al-Shabab in that end, and look at the proximity,” Kihalangwa said. “They have almost made this camp like it has lost its human character. It has lost the human character because there are certain insecurity activities that are taking place here. ... I think it's good we continue the voluntary repatriation and at a appropriate time ... this camp will actually close.”
According to the U.N. refugee agency, the Dadaab refugee complex hosts more than 200,000 refugees, the majority of them Somalis who fled their country's conflicts and recurring drought.
Since announcing the plan to close the Dadaab camp in May 2016, the government of Kenya has been reluctant to register new refugees there.
Magatte Guisse of UNHCR in Dadaab called on Kenyan authorities to address the issue of unregistered arrivals in the camps.
"We have 15,000 asylum seekers, undocumented people in the camp,” said Guisse. “ ... This is a security issue. Fifteen thousand unregistered people in a population of 211,000 in this border area — this should be addressed as quick as possible."
Al-Shabab militants have been carrying out attacks against Kenyan security forces and civilians since 2011, the year Kenya sent troops to Somalia to fight the militant group.